The 49ers have played the Dallas Cowboys and Philadelphia Eagles, arguably better teams that had higher hopes than just a winning record this season. They have played against the Seattle Seahawks and Cincinnati Bengals, arguably much worse teams with top-5 picks in mind in next year's NFL Draft.
However, there is something to be said about playing a team at the much the same caliber as you, which is what we will get when the 49ers play the Buccaneers this Sunday.
Both teams are 3-1 on the season with making the playoffs on their minds.
It was not so long ago that Bucs' running back LaGarette Blount signed with the 49ers, then backed out to join the Titans, then let go by the Titans and eventually joined the Buccaneers. He is now Tampa Bay's featured back and a real force in the backfield in the NFL.
It was also not long ago that Blount ran for 82 yards on 26 carries, while man-handling the 49ers' defensive front seven. The Bucs would make a mockery out of San Francisco that day.
Sunday, the 49ers will be a different team, though. A new-found confidence heading into an equal match-up of two teams looking for that extra win to possibly push them into the playoffs when the time comes.
For the Buccaneers, QB Josh Freeman is a load. San Francisco had an easy time getting Vick to the ground once there last Sunday, but Freeman is a much bigger, thicker QB and will take a little more to get to the ground. Oh, he can run, as well.
The 49ers will be using the same tactics they used against Vick to keep him in the pocket in the second half last Sunday that they will against Freeman this Sunday.
For the 49ers, Jim Harbaugh will continue to play it conservative with Alex Smith. It will be up to the Bucs' defense to get to Smith in a timely manner. However, i wouldn't think Smith will have the ball in his hands for very long this Sunday. Slants and screen passes may be a huge part of the strategy against the Tampa Bay.
If the 49ers are to win this Sunday, it will be because they limited Freeman's opportunities for big plays, and kept Blount to a minimum.
Blount is a huge part of this Bucs' offense, and the 49ers' front seven, who Freeman called one of the best he will face all year, will have to meet the expectations against a big, powerful back in Blount.
Home field advantage will play a huge role in this game. Smith will continue to play it safe with little plays downfield, and the majority of plays will hinge on either Frank Gore, Kendall Hunter or Vernon Davis. It worked last week and could work against Tampa Bay this week, although the Bucs' are ready for it.
Hunter may prove to be a surprise for Tampa Bay. Harbaugh is continually involving him more in the offensive game-plan week after week, so we should see more of him out of the backfield and making plays in the passing game that worked so well against Philly.
49ers win 31-27