49ers' playoff plan starts now


49ers' playoff plan starts now

The number of folks who have been wrong about the 49ers are legion -- probably including the 49ers themselves.

And while they have been basking the glory of being 7-1 when most folks saw far less, the interesting part starts now. The playoff plans start now. The expectations start now.

The world is now different, and the comparison point is no longer Mike Singletary, but Bill Walsh.

We know how they got here, because the story is told breathlessly every single day. A decent defense is now elite. A poor offense is now careful and efficient. Frank Gore has been revivified -- revivified himself. Other than grabbing their throats against Dallas, they have beaten bad teams, underachieving teams, confounding teams and intriguing teams on bad days.

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The how they got here doesnt matter, though. Theyre 7-1, and nobody else is. Its how they intend to keep doing as theyve done so as to maximize their tickets in January.

The Harbaugh Family Singers have made a hit record out of that old Anglican hymn Whos Got It Better Than us? And while the refrain has routinely been No-body, the answer is actually key to their long-term health.

Long-term, of course, being the playoffs.

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By now, being up five with eight to go means their magic number is four. But being five up on Seattle and Arizona, and six up on St. Louis, is as close to unconditional center as one can get this early in the process. None of the other even have wild card aspirations, so they have nothing to play for save their own safety.

Thus, their world has gotten considerably smaller, and as a result these are their new obstacles:

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The toughest of all, because the one thing the Packers cannot do, the 49ers have shown no signs of exploiting. Green Bay is an easy mark for a top-level quarterback with lots of weapons, but the 49ers have not shown any signs of having either. And the Packers force teams into a shootout, which the 49ers are loath to engage. They also rank among the top teams in the league against the run, which would seem to force the 49ers to throw even more. The key to a deep run in January, then, demands that they avoid the Packers in the second round.

The Saints are a lot like the Packers, only with a more accomplished running game, and a less accomplished run defense. In short, Gore will get his, but hell have to get his and then some to keep up with what Drew Brees and his offense are used to getting. The 49ers will be better positioned if they can get the Saints at home, but that would be the case with every team but Green Bay anyway.

Everything you need to know about the wildly dysfunctional NFL East is explained by the Giants being two games better than anyone else in it. The Giants have no discernible running game, and Eli Mannings renaissance explains why they are not treading mud with the Eagles and Redskins. They are also generous against the run, putting them particularly vulnerable against a team that likes to run and thrives against one-dimensional offenses.

Matt Forte is most of the offense, and the defense is better against the run than the pass. At home, they are difficult. On the road, they are ordinary. They will be a wild card team, so their stay isnt likely to be long or fruitful.

The Falcons are excellent against the run, mediocre against the pass, and middle of the pack in all offensive phases. In short, Matt Ryan has to steal a game, and while he is capable enough of doing so that Atlanta could end up winning the South and hosting an opening round game, theyll have to play the second week out in the open. They are 9-4 over the past two years outside Georgia, but theyre not nearly so imposing outside.

Every other team is 4-4 or worse, and while theres lots of time left to change the wild card and NFL South teams, the 49ers world view looks suspiciously narrow -- Wisconsin and Louisiana.

So Whos Got It Better Than Them? Were going to find out soon enough. The fact that theyre going to have wait for their fate is news enough.

Ray Ratto is a columnist for Comcast SportsNet Bay Area.

Frank Deford's longform storytelling made him worthy of our attention


Frank Deford's longform storytelling made him worthy of our attention

Frank Deford’s death over the weekend did not mark the end of longform sportswriting as we knew it; he had long ago become part of the electronic commentariat that has reduced longform’s place in the public’s attention span.

But there is still longform writing and storytelling to be found in many places, and it is still worthwhile. It has more production value, as the TV folks like to blather, and the words have to fight for their place between the cracks left by the pictures and the mutated graphics, but longform lives, and it should, lest we all agree as one people to further desiccate that attention span like a grapefruit left in the sun.

Deford’s death, though, reminds of when longform was the zenith of the storytelling art. It could, and still can, give you access and depth and breadth that a TV crew simply could not, and cannot. Even extended TV features are by their very nature so contrived by all the equipment that nothing is natural, nothing is a surprise, and the act of writing is almost an afterthought.

Deford knew this. He more than merely dabbled in TV himself, playing the wizened old raconteur who was as much character in his pieces as storyteller. He was also a star and a starmaker with The National, a daily sports network in newspaper form that was long on talent and ideas but short on delivery and distribution. It lasted 17 months, until mid-1991, but it led to grander attempts decades later, and could if you squint your eyes hard enough be the natural parent of Grantland and The Ringer and Vice and SB Nation and dozens of others – all bigger ideas, positioned in the post-typing world. Some lasted, more didn’t, but capitalism is like that – making fuel to keep the fires burning and the engines churning.

Deford could have thrived in such a world, to be sure. He was not, in the hideous phrase, “a man of his time.” Indeed, he was a crossover figure years ago in ways that other longform writers attempt to resist even now. They want to be Deford at the height of his powers at a time when the instruments for their gift are either dying or veering away from anything that hits the 600-word mark.

But his passing did not kill the art of clever writing and incisive storytelling. There are far too many people who can do that still, even if the market for their gifts is neither as pronounced nor as eager for the product as it once was. It did remind us not only that he was a giant, but that there are still giants among us should we deign to take the time to seek them.

Thus, Deford’s death marked his passing but not the thing that made him worthy of our attention. Storytelling, longform and otherwise, remains the heart of why this is still worthwhile to a culture, and when the generation his work spawned starts to die off, I suspect we’ll still be saying the same thing then. Notebooks are smartphones, photographs are streams, but the human eye and ear and hand still remain pre-eminent.

That is, until the robots take over, at which point reading won’t be worth it.

Does St. Louis' suit against NFL mean hope for the City of Oakland?

Does St. Louis' suit against NFL mean hope for the City of Oakland?

You thought you were done worrying about the Raiders. You thought the votes were in, the moving vans booked for three years down the road, and all gnashing and sharpening of teeth was over. You thought you were free.

Then those buttinsky-come-latelies from St. Louis decided to rear their litigious heads, and now you find yourselves slipping back into that desperate-hope world from which no one escapes.

It seems the city and its regional sports authority has decided to sue the National Football League and its 32 semi-independent duchies over the relocation of the Rams 15 months ago because, and you’ll like this one, the league allegedly did not follow its own relocation rules when it moved the team.

As you know, there is no such thing as a rule if everyone governed by the rule decided unanimously to ignore the rule. This doctrine falls under the general heading of, “We’re billionaires, try and stop us.”

But all lawsuits have a common denominator, and that is that there is money at the end of the rainbow. St. Louis is claiming it is going to miss out on approximately $100 million in net proceeds (read: cash) and has decided that the NFL and especially their good pal Stan Kroenke is going to have to pay for permission to do what they have already done -- specifically, leave.

Because the suit was filed in St. Louis, the benefits of home field advantage apply, and the league is likely to have to reinflate their lawyers for some exciting new billable hours.

As to whether it turns into a windfall for the jilted Missourians, well, as someone who has known lawyers, I would list them as prohibitive underdogs. But there is nuisance value here, which brings us to Oakland.

The city and county, as we know, did not put its best shoe forward in trying to lure the Raiders into staying or the other 31 owners into rejecting the team’s pleas for geographical relief. By that, we mean that the city and county did not fall all over itself to meet the league’s typically extortionate demands.

But they did play angry enough to start snipping about the 2019 part of the Raiders’ 3-More-Coliseum-Years plan, and they are threatening to sue over about $80K in unpaid parking fees, so filing their own breach-of-rules lawsuit might be a possibility.

Because, hey, what’s the point of sounding like a nuisance if you can’t actually become one?

By now, it is clear that everyone in SuitWorld got what it needed out of the Raiders’ move. The city and county could concentrate on guiding the A’s into activity on their own new stadium. The team could go where Mark Davis has been agitating for it to go for at least three years – somewhere else. The state of Nevada could find a place for that $750 million that was burning a hole in its casino vault. And the league went to a market that it, at first reluctantly and then enthusiastically, decided should be its own.

The fans? Oh, please. Who cares about them? To the NFL, and to all corporations in all walks of business, folks are just walking wallets.

But for some cash? Well, climb on board, suckers. The gravy train is pulling out on Track 3.

Nobody is fool enough to think the Raiders would be forced to return. Hell, even St. Louis isn’t asking for the Rams back. They just want to get paid for the money they probably banked on in the good old days before Stan Kroenke decided to head west.

And that would doubtless be Oakland’s stance as well if. Now the circumstances are slightly different, in that St. Louis worked harder to keep the Rams than Oakland did to keep the Raiders. St. Louis scared up $350 million toward new digs for the Rams, well short of what Kroenke would have accepted, while Oakland said it could get its hands on some infrastructure money and no more.

But Mayor Libby Schaaf complained in her relocation post mortem that the league didn’t follow its own guidelines (yay correlation as causation!), maybe with an eye toward throwing a few lawyers into the fire to see how long it would burn.

There is not yet any indication that the city and county are going that route (and the silence may simply mean that they are sick of the Raiders’ saga as everyone else seems to be), but if they do, well, don’t freak out that the team might be forced to return.

Except, of course, in that place where migraines start. Dragging this back up is a bit like the phantom pain amputees feel -- but hey, people will do a lot for a bit of court-ordered cash. Anyone who has ever watched Judge Judy will understand.