With the draft and free agency having reordered depth charts around the league, it's time to take stock of the positional battles that will be worth watching unfold once training camps open. Here are 10 intriguing depth-chart competitions that warrant our attention this summer:
(Editor's note: A few hours after this column was originally published, Peyton Manning told his agent to start contract negotiations with the Denver Broncos.)
So now, with Peyton Manning in Denver, the Titans and the 49ers have to put the pieces of their broken dreams back together and go on without him.
INDIANAPOLIS -- The Hall of Fame selection meeting takes place each year on the eve of the Super Bowl. More times than not the meeting produces greater intrigue and suspense than the game itself, because there are 15 modern-era finalists competing for a maximum of five open spots.
SAN FRANCISCO -- I laugh when people call me an idiot for my predictions.
SAN FRANCISCO -- Kyle Williams walked out into the rainy night, looking like a high school student, a dark hoodie pulled low over his head, backpack hanging over sagging jeans. He disappeared into the parking lot behind Candlestick Park, apparently without notice from the dejected 49ers fans gathered there.
Grading out the performances from the New York Giants' 20-17 overtime win over the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship Game.
SAN FRANCISCO -- Musings, observations and the occasional insight from a down-to-the-wire Championship Sunday. We had three-point thrillers, from coast to coast...
1. The quarterbacks will feel the heat.
The irony of this most unexpected pairing can't be missed. The NFC Championship Game matchup that we never saw coming -- Giants versus 49ers -- is actually one we've become very familiar with over the course of the past three decades of postseason history.
SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- If you're looking for a play that illustrates the toughness and determination of the San Francisco 49ers defense, Justin Smith can provide it.
SAN FRANCISCO -- He could have left town and never looked back last offseason, but Alex Smith stayed home and stayed with it. He resolved to remain a 49er, and give it one last shot.
Grading out the performances from San Francisco's thrilling 36-32 win over New Orleans Saturday afternoon in NFC divisional playoff action.
The San Francisco 49ers have to like the situation they're in: playing at home on Saturday, coming off a two-week stretch in which they were able to get healthy while studying a team that doesn't play nearly as well outdoors as indoors. And they have to like it because their defense doesn't have to blitz to get pressure on Drew Brees in the divisional round matchup -- meaning they can play seven men back to clog the passing lanes of the most efficient and accurate quarterback in NFL history.
1. This is football's version of the Irresistible Force meeting the Immovable Object.
This journey started in the dog days of summer in New Orleans.
SAN FRANCISCO -- It's been a very long time since the 49ers were in an important, late-season Monday night game.
San Francisco's Candlestick Park was in need of, well, candles after two power outages stalled Monday night's football game between the 49ers and the Pittsburgh Steelers.
SAN FRANCISCO -- Candlestick Park is a relic from the past, the most decrepit stadium in the league.
With Week 9 finished and 130 of the NFL's 256-game regular season now in the books, we're almost exactly halfway through the story in 2011. The second half of the season shapes up as an intriguing and wide-open affair, with 20 of the league's 32 teams still playing .500-or-better ball, and 18 clubs either in first place or within two games of the lead in their division.
As NFL regular seasons go, the one we thought we might not have in 2011 (see lockout, protracted) hasn't been half-bad. But it is almost half gone. So as November arrives, it's time for our annual midseason review...
Jim Harbaugh captured the wrong kind of attention with that handshake controversy. His San Francisco 49ers had just toppled the undefeated Lions, 25-19, in Week 6 when Harbaugh's postgame meet-and-greet with Detroit coach Jim Schwartz nearly descended into fisticuffs.
We all have opinions on what passed for Sunday Afternoon At the Fights in Detroit Sunday, and before I get too far into my 9,300 words this morning, let me give you my view of it so we can get on to the incredible story the 49ers are writing, what a NaVorro Bowman is, how Steve Young is playing a part (a small one, but a part) in the Aaron Rodgers story, the value of Andrew Luck, how Kurt Coleman might have saved the Eagles' season, WWAD (What Would Al Do) at quarterback, and the general flotsam, jetsam and mayhem of Week 6 of the season.
BALTIMORE -- Musings, observations and the occasional insight as we take in a Week 4 that made the state of Texas feel like the center of the NFL universe, with Houston winning a biggie to get to 3-1 and Dallas gagging away its shot to build a three-game winning streak with a historic (and horrific) second-half collapse....
Some quick thoughts on Monday night's too-close-for-comfort 24-17 victory by Tampa Bay over the Colts, then thoughts on three big players to play catch-up ball with from Sunday's action.
At the quarter pole of the 2011 season, the NFL has seen an interesting twist surface on the familiar length-of-game issue. If you've been paying attention through the first four weeks of the schedule, by now you know that games are never over, even when they seem over. You could say that the art of the comeback is making a comeback in the NFL, except for the fact we've never seen historic comebacks like this before. To wit:
We're invariably drawn to the storylines that involve the concept of second chances and second career acts in professional sports, and the NFL in Week 1 provided numerous examples of players who were starting over, either with a new team in a new city, or under the auspices of a new coaching staff that offered them a clean, blank slate.
A shooting after an NFL preseason game in San Francisco left two people hospitalized, authorities said. KGO reports.
The mayors of San Francisco and neighboring Oakland, California, on Sunday vowed to keep the peace at each city's arenas after two shootings and a beating followed a preseason football game at Candlestick Park.
The 49ers were busy during the lockout stenciling new slogans on the inside of their facility doors.
This isn't the way Colin Kaepernick would have drawn up the start of his NFL career: locked out of the 49ers facility, unable to contact his coach, prevented from going to work.
Many of you have written or tweeted to ask whether I'll be covering more of the labor stuff in this space over the next month or so, while the NFL and its players joust verbally and make their case in a St. Louis courtroom. My answer is simple: I'm going to write about football as much as possible, as long as it is relevant, along with some labor and the other cornucopia of stuff you read here.
Along with their draft board and telephone, the 49ers could include handcuffs and blindfolds in their draft room this week. Because no team has felt the constraints of the NFL lockout more than the 49ers.
SAN FRANCISCO -- The coronation finally took place Friday afternoon. In the historic Palace Hotel, with a musical introduction worthy of the Academy Awards, the 49ers awarded their franchise and its future to Jim Harbaugh.
Throughout the 2010 NFL season, SI.com's Nick Zaccardi will work with Jerome Bettis to get the six-time Pro Bowl running back's observations about the latest happenings in the league. Bettis retired from the NFL in 2006 after a 13-year career and is a semifinalist for the Pro Football Hall of Fame's Class of 2011.
Mike Singletary's blustery coaching career is now fodder for the next round of light beer commercials.
Thursday night's game really should have been re-titled "Monty Python Tribute" night. Because they're not dead yet. Neither one of them.
The San Francisco 49ers would never, ever stoop to taking advice from their cross-Bay rivals, the Oakland Raiders.
It's Donovan McNabb-goes-back-to-Philly week, and we do love our reunion games in the NFL, don't we? With as much player and coach movement as the league features these days, every season provides a handful of reunion games of varying degrees of significance and intrigue. But some of them, like this week's, really deserve the screaming headline treatment.
Mike Singletary is out of moves. Just three weeks into the NFL season, the 49ers coach has played his entire hand.
Given the disarray I saw firsthand from the winless 49ers on Sunday in Kansas City, the team's move to fire offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye on Monday comes as no real surprise. Other than the fact that San Francisco head coach Mike Singletary specifically assured reporters Sunday afternoon that Raye would be his offensive coordinator the rest of the season.
KANSAS CITY -- Mike Singletary was at a loss here Sunday afternoon at Arrowhead Stadium, and by that I don't mean the one he presided over in desultory fashion as his team's increasingly bewildered and at times over-matched head coach.
Each week, I'll provide quick-hitting insights from the slate of 1 p.m. games.
I took a couple of things out of Saints 25, 49ers 22 Monday night. One: San Francisco has to be the sloppiest, ugliest team in the league through two weeks, and that takes in a lot of ground (Cleveland, Carolina, Buffalo). A constant stream of mistakes -- some forced by the Super Bowl champs, some completely of the 49ers own doing (by stars and scrubs alike) -- tells me the Niners might be the best team in an awful division, but they won't give anyone trouble in the playoffs unless they clean up their act. Like, yesterday.
SAN FRANCISCO -- Five things we learned while watching the Saints beat the 49ers in a real nail-biter on Monday Night Football, with New Orleans winning 25-22 on Garrett Hartley's wounded-duck field goal as time expired ...
For everyone who pegs Arian Foster as a sure bet for 150-plus yards every week, or believes that Matt Hasselbeck has tapped into the fantasy fountain of youth, or thinks Michael Vick represents a stronger seasonal fantasy play than Kevin Kolb, Kyle Orton or Vince Young, may I present a few time-tested rules about what to believe in -- and what to ignore about fantasy football after Week 1.
For SI.com's complete previews of the other seven NFL divisions, click here.
Musings, observations and the occasional insight as we take stock of the good, the bad and the ugly from the NFL's first week of preseason action...
SI.com has dispatched writers to report on the 32 NFL training camps across the country. Here's what Peter King had to say about the 49ers camp in Santa Clara, Calif., which he visited on Aug. 4. For an archive of all camp postcards, click here.
The San Francisco 49ers would like you to believe that Tuesday's vote will determine their future.
PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla -- I'm playing the Stadium Course here at Sawgrass today, as part of the annual Tom Coughlin/Jay Fund tournament benefiting cancer-stricken kids and their families. Over/under on the number of balls I put in the drink at 17: 17.
The San Francisco 49ers are taking a risky approach to this year's primetime NFL draft.
The kind of throw Alex Smith has to make if he wants to be San Francisco's longterm quarterback came with 52 seconds left in the first half Monday night at Candlestick Park.
What we learned from the 49ers' 10-6 victory over the Bears at Candlestick Park ...
If he cares to, when Alex Smith looks across the field Sunday in Indianapolis's Lucas Oil Stadium, he'll see a fellow No. 1 overall draft pick who has been everything at the quarterback position he has not: Productive from day one, durable to the point of almost freakishness, and fortunate enough to be with a winning franchise and in an offensive system known for its pursuit of continuity and consistency.
Musings, observations and the occasional insight as we watch a week heavy on blowouts -- seven games with winning margins of 16 to 38 points -- unfold around the NFL map....
My weekly look at key matchups and storylines to watch in one game at each time slot. (All times Eastern)
Breaking down Sunday's San Francisco 49ers at Minnesota Vikings game (1 p.m., FOX).
Three great angles to my pick for the compelling game of the weekend, San Francisco at Minnesota, Sunday, at the Metrodome:
SI.com has dispatched writers to report on the 32 NFL training camps across the country. Here's what George Dohrmann had to say about the 49ers' camp in Santa Clara, Calif. For an archive of all the camp postcards, click here.
SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) -- Veteran cornerback Dre' Bly signed a one-year deal Thursday with the San Francisco 49ers, who moved quickly to fill the spot created by Walt Harris' knee injury.
The Jay Cutler telenovela having played out, a consensus seems to be coalescing among NFL draftniks that the Detroit Lions will make Georgia quarterback Matthew Stafford the top pick in the draft.
As he made his way through the 49ers' training complex Monday, free-agent quarterback Kurt Warner told a member of the organization that his heart was a two-hour plane ride away in Phoenix. The admission didn't come as a surprise. Even before Warner boarded a private jet for the ride from Arizona to Northern California, the football world knew he wanted to re-sign with the Cardinals, who won the NFC West and nearly upset the Steelers in the Super Bowl.
With a nod to the mileage our new president got from one of his signature catch phrases, the idea of change someone can believe in is the goal about this time of year in various venues throughout the NFL. But if it seems like the fresh starts and new regimes came at a dizzying pace this time around, there's good reason.
The Arizona Cardinals fell just short of claiming the ultimate prize on the sport's biggest stage. Their playoff run, however, provided hope to the scores of players who reside on the rosters of historically moribund franchises. If the Cardinals, with their pathetic body of work over the past 60 years, can make it to, and almost win, the Super Bowl, why can't some of the other downtrodden franchises?
I'll get to the 49ers' clock management in a moment -- wow ... it was almost a fireable offense, blowing 22 vital seconds in the final minute figuring out which subs to have on the field -- but three quick points to make first on Monday night's spellbinding, weird, all-but-division-clinching 29-24 Arizona win over San Francisco:
Halfway through this NFL season, I can't get over the staggering decline and fall of the West. There are few givens in 2008, but one of them is that nobody plays worse football collectively than the eight teams in the NFC and AFC West divisions.
Musings, observations and the occasional insight as we watch a Week 8 unfold that looks like it's going to be very, very accommodating to home teams ...
Four years ago I sat across a desk from Mike Singletary, thankful I was wearing a media credential and not a Minnesota Vikings jersey.
The 49ers lorded over the known football world for nearly 20 years, a gleaming Eternal City of the gridiron and the paragon of pigskin civilization.
How is Jake Long going to play? How does Darren McFadden look? Everywhere I go, I'm always asked about this year's rookies. That said, I thought this would be a good time to take a break from the 2008 draft and evaluate how the 2007 first-round picks are shaping up as we get deeper into the preseason. Here is a look at the top 10 picks, followed by the rest of last year's first round divided into appropriate categories.
Training camps have begun in earnest around the NFL and virtually every team has some starting jobs that are up for grabs. The left guard spot is available in Green Bay. There is competition for the starting cornerback job opposite Ellis Hobbs in New England. But nothing draws the interest of the fans and media like a quarterback competition. Heck, even the players have a special interest in finding out who will be their leader under center when the season begins in September.
Way back in 1985, in my first season as a glorified errand boy for the San Francisco 49ers, I could barely contain my excitement in the draft room, reacting to each pick like it was life or death. Sensing my misplaced enthusiasm, Bill Walsh calmly walked over to me and said, "Michael, relax, it's no big deal. We are only competing against eight teams."
Before I get to this week's email, here's my take on Roger Goodell stripping the 49ers of a fifth-round pick and making the Bears and 49ers swap third-round picks in Chicago's favor in the wake of the tampering case involving Lance Briggs.
Before we review the first full week of the NFL's free-agency period, a few quick points: We're going to avoid the hackneyed "winners and losers'' headings because there are no final results posted in March, at the very beginning of personnel acquisition season. We'll give a thumbs up or a thumbs down to teams, based on whether we can make sense of their offseason moves and if they strike us as reasonable and well-thought out decisions, or not. We either get it, or we don't.
It's only day two of the NFL's free agency period, and already this much is apparent: The San Francisco 49ers have it in mind to become the new Washington Redskins.
According to a league source, the 49ers and Justin Smith reached an agreement on a six-year, $45 million deal that includes $20 million dollars in guaranteed money. Smith, who has 43.5 career sacks, was regarded as the top pass rusher available on the market despite totaling just two and a half sacks a season ago.
Mike Martz may turn out to be the perfect fit as the 49ers' new offensive coordinator.
The San Francisco 49ers' search for a new offensive coordinator will begin -- and could end -- with former Georgia Tech and Dallas Cowboys head coach Chan Gailey, who spent Friday interviewing with head coach Mike Nolan at the team's practice facility.
MORE GAME PLANS: Seahawks-Panthers | Bengals-49ers | Ravens-Dolphins | Cardinals-Saints | Packers-Rams | Jaguars-Steelers | Bills-Browns | Titans-Chiefs | Falcons-Bucs | Colts-Raiders | Lions-Chargers | Cowboys-Eagles | Redskins-Giants
MORE GAME PLANS: Detroit-Minnesota | San Francisco-Carolina | Buffalo-Washington | Houston-Tennessee | Atlanta-St. Louis | Seattle-Philadelphia | San Diego-Kansas City | N.Y. Jets-Miami | Denver-Oakland | Cleveland-Arizona | Tampa Bay-New Orleans | Chicago-N.Y. Giants | Cincinnati-Pittsburgh
FOXBORO, Mass. - Musings, observations and the occasional insight on Week 12's storylines, as we await the latest Patriots-palooza of points at Gillette Stadium ...
• Attack the blitz. The Seahawks successfully pressured the 49ers in their initial meeting by using five and six-man pressures. The 49ers must be ready for the pressure and attack it by hitting their receivers on quick slants and fades before the rush arrives. Look for more three-step routes to counter the Seahawks' blitz-heavy game plan.
Building a team is like putting together a puzzle, with each piece complementing the other to form one collective unit.
In 18 years covering the league, I've reported from 43 different NFL stadiums. Here are my top 10 favorites:
The thing to understand is that this is a work in progress, ever changing throughout the season. Of course, barring an unforeseen disaster, either Tom Brady or Peyton Manning will be my All-Pro quarterback in the end. But at midseason some positions aren't close to being set. Here's where I stand.
Musings, observations and the occasional insight in the aftermath of an NFL weekend that so rudely interrupts our baseball-crazed revelry here in Boston ....
Maybe Michael Vick's year of bad karma started this whole mess. Or maybe this is just the NFL's now-normal state of affairs for teams not named the Colts or Patriots. But I can't recall when the state of quarterbacking seemed quite so patchwork, so temporary. It's as if missing your starting passer for some length of time has become the most typical of mid-season predicaments in the NFL.
It's three weeks into the regular season, and already we hold these truths to be self-evident:
• Colts defensive coordinator Ron Meeks veered from his two-deep scheme during crucial moments of the game versus the Titans. Opting to pressure Vince Young with linebacker Gary Brackett and safety Bob Sanders off the slot, Indy was able to keep Young contained in the pocket. The Colts rarely blitz, but Young's athleticism forced Meeks to step outside the box.
(Editor's Note: This is a reprint of a story SI.com first published in January 2007.)