49ers still get no respect

Despite beating the Super Bowl champion New York Giants in Week 10 and coming a few plays short of beating them again in the NFC championship game, the Niners only have a one-in-ten shot at winning next season’s Super Bowl according to the MGM Grand’s sports book in Las Vegas.

The MGM Grand is wrong. The Niners should be the preseason favorites to win the 2013 Super Bowl. They were the best team in the NFL last season and they will be even better this upcoming one.

Here’s a list of core 49ers who should be a little to a lot better next season:

Patrick Willis, Vernon Davis, Alex Smith, Aldon Smith, NaVorro Bowman, Ray McDonald, Chris Culliver, Joe Staley, Mike Iupati, Anthony Davis, Kendall Hunter and Colin Kaepernick.

Justin Smith and Frank Gore may not be better next season, but they’re warriors and they’ll still be key contributors. Despite being 32, Smith got stronger as the 2011 season went on, and although Gore wore down towards the end of 2011, he’s still younger than 30.

A lot could happen in free agency and the draft, but right now it looks like the Niners will be the most complete, most talented team in the NFL in 2012. Their defense should be even better, their passing attack should be much better and their run game should remain strong. No other team is that well rounded.

Not the Ravens – they’re getting old. Ray Lewis is 37 and slowing down. Ricky Williams just retired this morning. They’re going to take a step back.

Not the Giants, either. They’re a pass rush, a wide-receiving corps and a hall of fame quarterback, not a complete team like the 49ers.

Clearly, Vegas doubts Alex Smith’s (and Jim Harbaugh’s) ability to win the big one.

That seems unfair – Smith led nearly as many comeback drives in 2011 as Eli Manning did. He was pretty much lights out when he needed to bring the Niners from behind to win in the fourth quarter. It was when he had leads late that his production would plummet and he’d let opponents come back, like in the NFC championship game.

Smith should be able to improve on extending second-half leads. That seems like a natural progression for him, especially if he gets two new wide receivers in the offseason.

But, there’s the issue with the 49ers schedule – it’s one of the hardest in the league. They have to play the Giants, Packers, Patriots, Saints and Jets, to name a few. They probably won’t go 13-3 again, or get the two seed, or have a Bye.

But why is that a bad thing? Home-field advantage didn’t work out for the Niners or the Packers this postseason. And the Giants didn’t have home field after the wild card weekend.

The hard schedule is really a good thing. Next season, the Niners will be much more battle-tested by January (yes, I’m assuming they win the NFC West). This season, they only played a few playoff-type games, and as a result they looked green and inexperienced in the NFC championship (not the defense, but the offense and special teams). They shouldn’t look that way next year. They should look more like the Giants, who tore through the playoffs after a brutal regular season in which they lost seven games.

Here’s the MGM Grand’s order for the 2013 Super Bowl favorites:

Patriots: 5-1.

Packers: 11-2.

Steelers  6-1.

Eagles 6-1.

Giants 8-1.

Saints 10-1.

Niners 10-1.

Chargers 12-1.

Texans 12-1.

That seems like a preposterous order to me. Here’s how I would rank the Super Bowl favorites today:

1. Niners

2. Giants

3. Packers

4. Saints

5. Patriots

6. Texans

7. Ravens

8. Steelers

Disrespect update: Sportsbook.com gives the 49ers 20/1 odds to win the 2013 Super Bowl, same as the Cowboys, Jets, Falcons and Lions. If you want to bet today on the 49ers to win next year’s Super Bowl, this is the place to do it.

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