Jim Harbaugh says his 49ers team has reacted well to pressure this season. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
After their victory over the Patriots Sunday night, many now see the 49ers as the team to beat for the Super Bowl.
In odds updated this week, one Las Vegas sports book now has the Niners favored to win it all, over the Patriots, Broncos, Texans, Falcons, Packers and Seahawks, in that order.
But as significant as San Francisco’s 41-34 victory in New England might have been, it was just one regular-season game. The 10-3-1 Niners locked up a playoff spot, but haven’t assured themselves of the NFC West title or a first-round playoff bye.
In fact, the 49ers now have to quickly turn their attention to the Seahawks, who at 9-5 are one of the NFL’s success stories in 2012, for another nationally televised Sunday night game.
On Monday, Cam Inman of the Bay Area News Group reported that Harbaugh and his coaching staff spent much of their time on the flight back from New England studying game film of the Seahawks in preparation for the divisional game Sunday night.
Seattle, which is 1½ games back of the 49ers with two games to play, could still win the NFC West if it can win Sunday. The Niners, meanwhile, know they need to win (or tie) at Seattle to clinch a division title. They can clinch a first-round bye this weekend with a victory and a loss or tie by the 10-4 Packers against Tennessee.
The Seahawks – who lost to the 49ers earlier this season, 13-6 – have been on a roll, with three straight victories over the Bears, Cardinals and Bills. In their past two games, Seattle has outscored Arizona and Buffalo 108-17.
Harbaugh, however, believes this 49ers team has developed this season into a team that can perform well in its biggest games. After the win over the Patriots Sunday night, he said he’s been impressed how the team has handled pressure. He says the team has been able to shut out all the noise (pressure) and concentrate on what needs to be done.
“I feel that way with our team in terms of pressure in big games,” he told reporters. “The more you hear, the less you hear. The more you feel it, the less you feel it. So I feel good about our team in those big-game situations.”
As Ron Kroichick of the San Francisco Chronicle noted, the 49ers also have come up big on the road this season, going 5-2 with wins in Green Bay, New Orleans and New England.
Now, however, the 49ers must prepare for another stern test in the loudest outdoor stadium in the NFL, where the fans take pride in being the “12th Man” and causing visiting teams to commit false-start penalties.
The 49ers may now be the darlings of oddsmakers, but they can’t afford to fail their next big test.