The San Francisco 49ers had a free ride last season. Year one of the Jim Harbaugh era was a welcome honeymoon from the general misery the team had suffered for most of the last decade.
Now the 49ers need to learn how to play with expectations. Everyone expects them to be good this year. Can they perform well with expectations to play that well? Ryan Van Bibber of SB Nation has this report.
The bar is raised. After years of searching for a follow up to La Dolce Vita, Italian filmmaker Federico Fellini made 8 1/2 in 1963, a dreamy tale of a man trying to create in the face of lofty public expectations. Jim Harbaugh enters the 2012 season loaded with similar presumptions of a dynasty restored with an improved roster, a fiery disposition and a better understanding about the finer points of a handshake.
This season's 49ers team will have a different look. Last year's team was one built around a fearsome defense and an offense leaning on the run. San Francisco's offseason moves foretell of a team that wants to score as many points as it prevents, and they added receivers Mario Manningham, Randy Moss and 1st-round pick A.J. Jenkins in order to score those points through the air. Fellini pivoted from neo-realism to fantasy with 8 1/2; Harbaugh intends a similar thematic transformation for his follow up performance.
The 49ers should be a more complete team with a better complement of wide receivers, but a lot will probably depend on how much Alex Smith improves as a quarterback and how much more varied the offense can get from last year's run-heavy attack. The Niners will probably need more diversity to beat teams that can produce points and play defense.
Talk about Harbaugh and the 49ers over at Niners Nation.
Check out the SB Nation NFL YouTube channel for more coverage