The San Francisco 49ers have absolutely shocked me. They have the second best record in the NFL at 7-1, have a five game lead in the NFC West and look like they could be a force in the playoffs. Alex Smith has looked decent in leading the offense, playing mainly mistake-free football. Despite some lingering injuries, Frank Gore has been a solid force in the backfield. But the real standouts have been on the defensive side of the football. Patrick Willis has been the star that he has always been, but other standouts like Navorro Bowman and Justin Smith have also played at an All Pro level. But I think the real difference has been first year Head Coach Jim Harbaugh. He has an arrogance and confidence about him that is exuding down to his team. He doesn’t care who he pisses off and is seemingly making all the right moves. Don’t be shocked if the Niners get a first round bye in the playoffs and make a bit of noise when they get there.
Meanwhile, it has been an up and down season for the Oakland Raiders. The death of longtime owner Al Davis left a somber mood over this season. The trade for quarterback Carson Palmer was panned in many outlets and applauded by some longtime fans. They have had memorable victories over the New York Jets and Houston Texans, but also brutal defeats the last two weeks against division rivals Kansas City and Denver. Despite all this, the team is still tied for first place with Kansas City and San Diego at 4-4. Would I be shocked to see them win the division? No, I think they have shown the ability to play with some of the best teams in the league. But I also wouldn’t be shocked to see them flame out as well. It may all depend on how well Palmer plays the rest of the season and if he can get some of that magic back from a few years ago.
The one thing I have enjoyed is that both teams are in the headlines and have made Bay Area football relevant again, a welcome sign for all fans of both the 49ers and Raiders.
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