|Gail Burton / Associated Press
|Are Jim Harbaugh's 49ers a one-hit wonder or among the NFL's elite?
Are the San Francisco 49ers overrated?
The San Francisco 49ers returned to relevance in 2011, dominating the NFC West during a 13-3 season that sent them to the playoffs for the first time in nine years.
The Niners knocked off the New Orleans Saints in an epic divisional round matchup, before achingly falling short in the NFC Championship Game to the New York Giants.
San Fran enters the 2012 season expected to challenge again for the Super Bowl. But does one great season mean we should assume Jim Harbaugh's team is now among the NFL's elite?
In their latest edition of "He Said, He Said," Around The League's Marc Sessler and Dan Hanzus offer two opinions on a hot-buzz topic in the NFL.
Sessler: Harbaugh isn't finished
Was it a mirage?
How easy to look back on what the 49ers did last season and question if it was real. I look no further than Jim Harbaugh for the truth.
His handiwork recalls what a younger Bill Belichick did in New England a decade ago. Making the most of the players he inherited -- many who had never won on this level -- and turning them into a tour de force.
All 32 teams have talent, but so much of it is wasted. To doubt what San Francisco did last season is to doubt Harbaugh, and I can't find a way to poke holes.
This was players buying into the system and being used correctly. For the first time in history, we saw a productive Alex Smith, instead of a man better equipped to stock party favors at CVS.
The coach/quarterback combination has proven huge in football. Smith won't be Harbaugh's last quarterback -- there will be others -- but if Harbaugh can turn a project passer he inherited into a 13-game winner, what will he do with a roster full of his guys?
The 49ers aren't a step removed from glory, they're a step closer.
Hanzus: Don't crown them yet
We've been led to believe the 49ers will take January's NFC Championship loss and use it as rocket fuel, turning Kyle Williams' tragedy into a greater triumph.
It's a sweet tale, but one easier said than done. We have no doubt the Niners will be competitive, especially in a weak NFC West. But everything had to go right last season for the Niners to go 13-3 and win a playoff game.
The defense played out of its mind, Alex Smith was (at long last) a reasonable facsimile of a No. 1 pick, while Frank Gore (barely) stayed in one piece. And don't discount David Akers, who became the golden god of kickers.
To reach similar heights, most of those performances must be repeated. New contributors must emerge.
The Niners were smart to reload at trouble positions. Brandon Jacobs was signed to back up Gore, while first-rounder A.J. Jenkins and Randy Moss were imported to upgrade a woeful WR unit. But Jacobs now runs in cement boots. Jenkins won't be rushed into a role. As for Moss? I'm not buying what's being sold.
Will the Niners combust? Unlikely â¦ but I'm not ready to crown them an NFC powerhouse just yet.
Marc Sessler and Dan Hanzus prattle on endlessly for Around the League.