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Friday, April 13, 2012
Accepting the '4949centennial' challenge

By Mike Sando
ESPN.com

Leave it to one of our resident San Francisco 49ers fans to issue an irresistible challenge.

Thank you, 4949centennial, for giving me something (arguably) better to do on a Friday afternoon.

Some background: With the 49ers finishing 13-3 last season, I noted that the 13 teams finishing 13-3 from 2004-10 had averaged 8.3 victories the following season. Three finished better than 9-7, affirming the difficulty of sustained excellence.

"Niner fans, we don't need to be on the defensive here," 4949centennial wrote. "If Sando did the work right, he would have listed the following:
"Just because he tried to stir the pot," 4949centennial concluded, "doesn't mean we all have to be defensive. If this is what gives hope to Seattle fans, then so be it."

Stir the pot? Let me set down my spoon.

Q: How many of those 13-3 teams went to playoffs next year?

Four of the 13 teams reached the playoffs one year after posting their 13-3 record.

Q: How many of those 13-3 teams were rebuilding? I mean what were their records the previous year?

Twelve of the 13 teams had won at least eight games the season before finishing 13-3. One, Baltimore, was coming off a 6-10 season, same as the 49ers were last season.

I'm not sure how this information applies to the discussion. 4949centennial can clear up that one in the comments section.

Q: How far did they go in the playoffs?

None of the 13 teams advanced further in the playoffs the following year, defined by which round each team reached. None had a first-round bye, either.

Q: What were these teams' significant injuries? How many starters they have lost over FA?

Impacts from injury situations and free-agent additions/subtractions are difficult to measure.

The 49ers brought back quarterback Alex Smith and all of their defensive starters. They could be in a strong position to break the trend or, at the very least, avoid the big drops in victory totals that have afflicted other teams coming off 13-3 records. But they were also unusually healthy last season, with Alex Smith starting every game despite taking 51 sacks, counting the playoffs.

What are the odds Smith and his teammates hold up similarly in 2012?

Rosters dynamics can change even when teams keep their core players. Every team is different, even when it stays largely the same on paper. What impact will Randy Moss have on the 49ers?

The 13-3 teams suffering the smallest drops in record a year later were the ones with the stablest quarterback situations: Indianapolis (2008), New Orleans (2010) and Atlanta (2011). The 49ers are much stronger defensively than those teams. The comparison might not hold up.

Wrapping it up

Nineteen teams finished 13-3 or better from 2004-10. Fifteen failed to advance as far in the playoffs a year later. The other four went further in the playoffs, with three reaching the Super Bowl: Pittsburgh (2005), Indianapolis (2006) and New England (2010).

Expanding the field, 31 teams finished 12-4 or better from 2004-10. Twenty-three failed to advance as far in the playoffs the following year. Two advanced just as far. Six advanced further and five of those reached the Super Bowl, including the Patriots (2007) and Colts (2009).

The 49ers set the bar high in 2011. Improvement for them means reaching the Super Bowl. That is a high standard no matter what their regular-season record winds up being.