49ers still playoff pretenders

The San Francisco 49ers have had a tremendous start. But how will they fare in the playoffs? Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

In 1981, the San Francisco 49ers, guided by a former Stanford Cardinal head coach (Bill Walsh), made one of the biggest turnarounds in NFL history by going from a 6-10 record in 1980 to a 13-3 regular-season mark and an eventual win in Super Bowl XVI.

At this point, there looks to be some parallels between that club and the 2011 49ers. A former Stanford head coach (Jim Harbaugh) has taken that team from a 6-10 record in 2010 to a 7-1 mark this year, which is the team's best start since 1997.

It isn't just the standings where San Francisco has shown significant improvement, as the 49ers are posting terrific statistics in many categories, including points per game (25.8, eighth-best in the league), points allowed per game (a league-best 14.8), yards allowed per game (325.9, ninth-best) and rushing yards per game (137.6, sixth-best).

As tremendous as the record and top-notch statistics look at first glance, upon closer review it's clear there are many reasons to think this team will not only fall short of its San Francisco predecessor -- it may also be the ultimate playoff pretender of the 2011 season.

It starts with the 49ers' offense, which is averaging only 311.1 yards per game, a total that is seventh-lowest in the league.

A big part of this poor showing is the play of quarterback Alex Smith. Smith has been lauded for his low interception total (only two picks this season, which is the lowest total of any quarterback with enough passes to be listed as a qualifier), but the passing game is about more that just avoiding errors and it's in those areas that Smith is lacking.