The San Francisco 49ers are among the favorites to win the 2013 Super Bowl, and with that comes some lofty expectations and immense pressure.
The pressure comes in the form of fans expecting them to win week after week, judging by the 13-3 2012 season in which head coach Jim Harbaugh pushed all the right buttons, quarterback Alex Smith threw all the right passes and the defense came up with the big plays when the moment got tough.
A trip to the NFC Championship last season would suggest that idea.
The 49ers returning all starters on defense suggests the same.
This is a team built to win now because they were arguably a wide receiver, a first down or a botched punt return away from the biggest stage in sports in 2012.
The over/under this season on the team from San Francisco is a trip to the NFC Championship once again.
If the 49ers do not claim the over in that scenario, then the season will be a disappointment.
Grantland.com’s Bill Barnwell wrote earlier this month on the topic of lofty expectations for the 49ers this season.
He throws that out the window, saying the 49ers will not win more than nine games after winning 13 in 2011-12.
“I see a team whose performance is unsustainable in a number of ways, one that will struggle mightily to re-create all the advantages they had in 2011. I think of it like a credit score: There's no one individual item that guarantees a Niners collapse, but instead a variety of extraordinary factors driving last year's success erode their current expectations from multiple angles. San Francisco simply has too much to overcome in 2012 to repeat their 13-win season. And once you've seen the evidence in context, I suspect that you'll agree with me.”
The 49ers will have a tough time repeating the type of season they had last year, winning 13 games with a relatively easy schedule and the role of the underdog.
This season, they have a tougher schedule and a league that has them circled on their calendars.
However, there is nothing to suggest the 49ers cannot reach the Super Bowl -- whether they win 13 games or not.
Jim Harbaugh is still one of the best game-planners the NFL has seen in some time, and he prepares his team for every one of the 16 games on the schedule.
Smith now has more weapons, whether Harbaugh decides to use them exclusively or not.
Also, the defense is all back with a reputation as being an impenetrable force.
Still, the question remains: If the 49ers do not make the Super Bowl, is the season a disappointment?
If you ask Harbaugh, any step in the wrong direction is, and the wrong direction this season is anything less than a Super Bowl birth.