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It's just Week 12, but 49ers already can clinch the division

Before you read on, rewind to your opinion of the San Francisco 49ers before Week 1.

With a first-year head coach, the lockout shutting down the offseason to learn a new system and a lame-duck quarterback under center, we imagine very few people gave the 49ers much of a chance to win the NFC West.

And yet, here we are, it's barely Week 12, and they're on the verge of doing just that.

If 9-1 San Francisco wins the much-anticipated Harbaugh Bowl on Thursday night in Baltimore, and the Seahawks lose at home to the Redskins on Sunday, the 49ers will clinch the division and end their eight-year playoff drought. They'd become just the sixth team since 1978 to clinch after 11 games.

Who thought this was possible, that coach Jim Harbaugh's transition from Stanford to the NFL would be so seamless and that Alex Smith actually could be an effective quarterback after proving in the previous six years just how much of a No. 1 overall bust he was?

Since the 49ers' front-office didn't take drastic measures to improve the roster, we can't help but wonder if the team's success is a credit to Harbaugh or an indictment on former coach Mike Singletary. It's probably a bit of both.

And in other playoff-clinching scenario news, the 10-0 Packers can clinch a playoff spot, but it's a bit more complicated. They have to beat the Lions on Thanksgiving, and one of the following has to happen:

» Dallas loses or ties, and Atlanta loses.
» Dallas loses or ties, and New Orleans loses.
» Atlanta loses, and the Giants lose or tie.

Get all that?

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