It was argued last January that the real Super Bowl was the NFC Championship Game, where the 49ers barely lost to the Seahawks – who went on to crush the Broncos for the NFL championship.
Now, going into the 2014 season, Pro Football Focus has ranked the rosters of all 32 teams, and there at Nos. 1 and 2 are the powers of the NFC West, the Seahawks and 49ers.
The rankings, posted on ESPN.com, were compiled by Pro Football Focus’ analysts, and take into account the projected 53-man rosters and lineups of every team.
The rankings grade players as elite, high quality, good starter, average starter, below-average starter, poor starter, not enough information or rookie.
Across the board, the 49ers’ offensive and defensive lineups are more consistent than the Seahawks. Seattle has two below-average starters on the offensive line and four average starters among its offensive and defensive starting groups. But its defense has two elite players – cornerback Richard Sherman and safety Earl Thomas – and the offense has an elite running back in Marshawn Lynch.
The 49ers, meanwhile, have no below-average starters, one player with unknown qualities (center Daniel Kilgore) and four average starters, all on defense: nose tackle Glenn Dorsey, corner Chris Culliver and safeties Antoine Bethea and Eric Reid.
But the 49ers’ offense is much stronger than Seattle’s, with five high-quality players in fullback Bruce Miller, tight end Vernon Davis, wideout Michael Crabtree and linemen Joe Staley and Mike Iupati.
San Francisco’s only elite player is inside linebacker Patrick Willis, according to the rankings.
“The 49ers’ roster is so good that the team has begun essentially redshirting players in the draft, with Marcus Lattimore a year ago and Brandon Thomas this season, sitting out their first year on injured reserve,” wrote PFF’s analysts.
In addition, the offense’s weak spot, wide receiver, is now manned by Crabtree, Anquan Boldin and Stevie Johnson, so “it should be a strength this year.”
Pro Football Focus’ conclusion: “In total, 70.1 percent of their starters on both sides of the ball are ranked good or better. Rookie Jimmie Ward and center Kilgore are question marks, but there is no projected starter who grades out below average.”
After reading the rankings, Bill Williamson, who covers the 49ers for ESPN.com, mostly agrees with Pro Football Focus. Mostly.
“Perhaps you can argue the 49ers have a better all-around roster than Seattle,” he wrote. “But the Seahawks are the champions and beat the 49ers in the postseason, so this ranking isn’t bad at all. The 49ers are elite and have a stacked roster. That can’t be denied.”