Stakes higher for 49ers this time around

This is the opening for my Wednesday analysis of what’s at stake for Jim Harbaugh and the 49ers on Saturday. This will run in the Press Democrat newspaper, and I’m also posting it here.

This week the 49ers are in the same position they were in a year ago — No. 2 seed, first-round bye, home game. It’s a great situation to be in, but the stakes are different.

Last year, there were no stakes. The 49ers were coming off a six-win season, Jim Harbaugh was in his rookie season as the head coach, and Alex Smith was still the quarterback.

The 49ers were like a craps player on a heater, rolling sevens 50 times in a row. They rode a magical wave. When it ended, no one faulted them for losing. Just imagine how much better they’ll be next season, people reasoned.

That’s where the stakes come in.

The 49ers have to do better this postseason than they did last postseason to prove they are making progress and to take advantage of aging stars like Justin Smith and Frank Gore, who may never be this good again.

These are the stakes pure and simple: The 49ers have to advance to the Super Bowl.

To read the full article, click here.

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