After stringing together a pair of ugly losses to Seattle and Indianapolis early in the season -- both in prime time, where their flaws were plainly evident to the tune of a combined 56-7 score -- the 49ers were forced off the NFC contenders short list. New Orleans replaced them, next to Green Bay and Seattle, and the 49ers settled into the NFC's second tier for a period. Five weeks later, following five straight 30-point outbursts, the 49ers still trail the Seahawks by just one game. And in terms of overall performance, they're closing fast on their NFC West rivals.
Colin Kaepernick, roundly critiqued for poor showings against Seattle and Indianapolis, has a higher passing DVOA than Russell Wilson. (DVOA is Football Outsiders' defense-adjusted value over average metric, explained here.) The 49ers have the fifth-easiest remaining schedule according to our numbers. And help is on the way. For the defending NFC champions, the best could be yet to come.