Let’s set aside the statistical analysis for a minute. I love the San Francisco 49ers under Jim Harbaugh. Now, a lot of this probably has to do with coming of age with the Marty Schottenheimer Chiefs with great defenses led by Derrick Thomas and ball control offenses that avoided turnovers. So the emotional part of me loves these type of teams like San Francisco that maximize what they have, play hard- hitting defense, and are well coached. I also am a huge fan of Patrick Willis, who along with Navarro Bowman, is forming the most formidable inside backer pairing in the league. Teams have ZERO rushing touchdowns against the 49ers this year. That’s pretty amazing.
The intellectual part of me knows that these kind of teams tend to have little margin of error, that they maximize what they have in the regular season and sometimes, often times, come up short in the playoffs when an idiot kicker misses field goals, the bounces stop going their way, or they just run up against a dominant offense that peaks.
So, I took a look at teams since 1990 most similar to this 49er bunch through 9 games. I looked at teams with a similar point differential, then settled on all those with a point difference within 14 of the 49ers, and with 7 or more wins. I then cooked up a similarity score using points for and against, point difference, turnover margin, and offensive and defensive yards per play passing and running. Here are the 10 most similar teams to the 2011 San Francisco 49ers:
- 1995 Oakland Raiders (8-8) [no playoffs]
- 1992 Buffalo Bills (11-5) [lost Super Bowl vs. Dallas]
- 1996 San Francisco 49ers (12-4) [lost Divisional Round at Green Bay]
- 2008 Tennessee Titans (13-3) [lost Divisional Round at home vs. Ravens]
- 1995 Kansas City Chiefs (13-3) [lost Divisional Round at home vs. Colts]
- 1990 Chicago Bears (11-5) [lost Divisional Round at NY Giants]
- 2004 Philadelphia Eagles (13-3) [lost Super Bowl to New England]
- 2000 Oakland Raiders (12-4) [lost Championship Game vs. Ravens]
- 2004 New England Patriots (14-2) [won Super Bowl]
- 2007 Green Bay Packers (13-3) [lost Championship Game vs. NY Giants]
The interesting thing is that Jim Harbaugh has a direct connection to two of those teams. In 1995, the Chiefs went 13-3 with an excellent turnover margin, an offense that was not explosive with Steve Bono at quarterback, and were good in close games. Jim Harbaugh’s wildcard Indianapolis Colts came in on a cold day in January and won a heartbreaker when Lin Elliott forever went down in infamy. Sixth on the list is a team quarterbacked by a guy named Jim Harbaugh, who was in his first full season as a starter and got off to an 8-1 start with the Bears that year.
Having the 1995 Raiders, easily the worst team of the 29 I looked at, and the only one to not make the playoffs, show up as most similar probably says something. Teams with low net yards per attempt on offense and very little difference in their pass efficiency allowed don’t project forward as well. The turnover margin is great, but doesn’t tend to be a reliable indicator going forward.
I’m rooting for the San Francisco 49ers. I’m also a Chiefs fan. I know what it feels like when things go right in the regular season, only to go bad in the playoffs. I know what that feels like at the hands of Jim Harbaugh. Hopefully for San Francisco 49ers, the model that Harbaugh learned as a first year quarterback ends differently.
[photo via Getty]