February 21, 2024
49ers must beat Packers, seize best shot at Super Bowl

It’s not now or never for the 49ers to win the Super Bowl.

But it’s fair to wonder: If this isn’t the moment for the 49ers, will that moment ever come?

This is the best team that Kyle Shanahan has fielded in his seven-year tenure as head coach. The Niners’ roster is chock full of Pro Bowlers and game-changers.

So it’s no surprise that Shanahan’s team has viewed this season as the season.

And there’s no reason to waffle ahead of the hard part — the Niners are three wins away from their sixth Super Bowl title.

San Francisco was hands down the best team in the NFC this season. That alone would be enough to expect a trip to the Super Bowl.

But as the Niners sat at home during their playoff bye week, their path to the Super Bowl became more straightforward.

Plaster this on the visitors’ locker room bulletin board if you want, but to play for a championship, the 49ers need only to go through the lowest seed in the NFC bracket (the 9-8 Packers, the youngest team in the NFL), and then either the Detroit Lions (one of the worst pass defenses in the NFL) or the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (whom the Niners whooped in Week 11).

And the Niners, rested, healthy and heads and shoulders above their competition, won’t have to get on a plane for any of it.

Yes, there’s a good reason the 49ers are nearly two-to-one favorites to make it to Las Vegas. The competition does not stack up in the NFC.

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If the Niners were to have been able to choose their path to the Super Bowl, this is how they would have drawn it up.

And while it’s difficult to handicap a possible Super Bowl matchup at this juncture, the Niners shouldn’t fear any possible AFC opponent — even the Ravens, who beat them on Christmas. If the 49ers see them again, they’ll be more prepared for the Baltimore defense than they were the first time.

So this must be the season.

Windows of contention are small in the NFL, even for the best-run teams. While success looks to be in the cards for the Niners for years to come, they’d be wise to note that nothing is guaranteed.

Success is ultimately determined on the field by men hitting other men, but accounting has a lot to do with winning and losing in the modern NFL.

And no one has played the numbers better than the 49ers’ front office.

It has built a roster that’s second-to-none but fundamentally top-heavy.

The Niners pay elite players top-of-the-market rates, and thanks to some clever salary cap maneuvering and the astounding value of quarterback Brock Purdy, no one has more elite players.

The Niners can afford to pay all their stars because Purdy, the one-time MVP front-runner who threw 31 touchdowns this season, played like a quarterback worth more than $30 million, according to the NFL salary gurus at OverTheCap.com. Top quarterbacks around the league make more than $50 million a season.

But Purdy’s contract only paid him $889,253. I don’t think he can access the Levi’s Stadium club level with his net worth.

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And because he was the last pick in the 2022 NFL Draft, Purdy will remain in the cheap seats — he’s due $2.1 million, total, over the next two seasons.

But that fleecing will only provide so much financial flexibility. The Niners are set to pay 10 players more than $10 million next season.

Salary cap realities will catch up with this team in due time — they could even come while Purdy is on his bargain deal — and when they do arrive, the Niners will likely have to move on from some of their top players.

Picking the right player to offload is a delicate balancing act, particularly for a team that lacks high-level backups who are pushing to take starting jobs.

This might be the peak of the Niners’ roster.

And if that’s indeed the case, it would be a true shame to leave this season empty-handed.

Especially with the way the postseason path has cleared for them.

The 49ers are 10-point favorites over the Packers on Saturday. If they take care of business, they’ll be heavy favorites again in the NFC Championship Game.

These Niners haven’t been perfect, but their best was unassailable. No other team can operate on their level when they are fully firing.

It’s time to fire.

Three games, four weeks, one clear-as-day shot at title No. 6.