With the win over the St. Louis Rams on Sunday, the San Francisco 49ers were crowned NFC West champions for the first time in nine years. Since that time, the team has endured five head coaching changes, a number of offensive coordinator swaps and a losing season in each of the following years until this point. With the win, the team moved to 10-2, good for not only the top of the West, but the second best record in the NFL and, as such, the NFC, behind only the undefeated Green Bay Packers.
And now that's the kind of team the 49ers are competing against. They're no longer in a division against the Seattle Seahawks, Arizona Cardinals and St. Louis Rams. Now, they're competing with the New Orleans Saints, Atlanta Falcons and the aforementioned Packers, and they couldn't be happier to do so. Right now, everything is going to focus on looking ahead to the playoffs, but that doesn't mean coasting through the remainder of the schedule.
No, the 49ers will play just as hard as they have been, because there are an awful lot of things to keep playing for. They're currently the No. 2 seed in the AFC, but if they let up and lose in games they'll be heavily favored in ... like the remaining three against the NFC West ... then they could easily lose that seeding to a team like the Saints. At this point, if they happen to do well in the playoffs, they're looking at a potential road game against the Packers. There's almost no way around that at this point in the season, but winning is still essential to potentially set up a couple playoff games at Candlestick Park.
Their road to the playoffs is now complete, but they've got a long way to go in solidifying their place in them.