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USA Today

Let's quickly knock out the main obstacles standing in the 49ers' way of making it back to the Super Bowl. San Francisco's receiving corps has been devastated by injuries this summer, although Deebo Samuel and rookie Brandon Aiyuk are rounding back into health. Second, the 49ers, who play in arguably the NFL's toughest division, own the fourth-toughest strength of schedule in the NFL. San Francisco will also have to avoid joining the long list of Super Bowl runner-ups who came up considerably shy of expectation the following season. 

While the odds are slightly stacked against them, it's very feasible to believe that the 49ers will hoist the Vince Lombardi Trophy this February for the first time in 26 years. In doing so, San Francisco, the first team to capture five Super Bowl titles, would pass the Cowboys and move into a tie with the Steelers and Patriots for the most Vince Lombardi trophies. 

With the start of the regular season just days away, let's take a look at the three main reasons why the 49ers will bring a sixth Lombardi Trophy back to the Bay Area. 

1. A winning formula 

Yes, the NFL has become a more complex game than it was when Vince Lombardi roamed the sidelines in Green Bay during the 1960s. That being said, Lombardi's winning philosophy back then -- a highly-effective rushing attack and a dominant defense -- is just as effective today. Teams that can run the ball and play great defense typically put themselves in a position to win championships. That formula existed in San Francisco in 2019, and it nearly led to winning the trophy that bears Lombardi's name. The 49ers are expected to rely on that same formula in 2020. 

While there are a few new faces, the 49ers' offense is set up to have continued success on the ground in 2020. They replaced retired Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Staley with Trent Williams, a six-time Pro Bowler during his time in Washington. The 49ers also acquired veteran right guard Tom Compton, who is reuniting with coach Mike Shanahan after previously working with him in Washington. 

Tevin Coleman, a six-year veteran who rushed for 105 yards and two scores in the 49ers' divisional round playoff win over the Vikings, will back up Raheem Mostert, the team's leading rusher last season. A former undrafted rookie who toiled on several teams before finally breaking through in San Francisco, rushed for 220 yards and four touchdowns in the 49ers' 37-20 win over Green Bay in the NFC title game. The 49ers are also welcoming back Jerick McKinnon, a former Viking who has missed the past two seasons with a knee injury. McKinnon will also look to make a difference in the passing game, which will likely lead to him getting more opportunities on third downs. 

"I do think I can open up a different element and my toolset that I bring," McKinnon said during training camp, via the Mercury News. "Kyle is a matchup guru at playing guys up to their strength."

The 49ers' defense, led by defensive coordinator Robert Saleh, should build off of the success they had in 2019, when they finished eighth in the league in points allowed, first in pass defense and second in third down efficiency. While the team did decide to trade away defensive tackle DeForest Buckner (who finished third on the team in sacks in 2019), San Francisco has replaced him with Javon Kinlaw, the 14th overall pick in the draft. One of the top-rated defensive linemen in this year's draft, Kinlaw is vying to be in the starting lineup when the 49ers kick off the season. 

"I'm making improvements," Kinlaw recently said as it relates to adjusting to the NFL, via The Washington Post. "That's the main thing. Just get better day by day. That's it. That's all I'm really trying to do. I knew coming in that it wasn't going to be easy. So I already had prepared myself for that. I see the improvements daily."

Even if it takes Kinlaw a while to develop into a top-level defender, the 49ers have other players in place to help pick up the slack, led by second-year defensive end Nick Bosa (nine sacks last season), defensive end Erik Armstead (10 sacks in '19) and perennial Pro Bowl cornerback Richard Sherman. The 49ers are also hoping to have a healthy Dee Ford -- who battled through a knee injury throughout the 2019 season -- for the 2020 season. Ford, who still managed to record 6.5 sacks in 11 games last season (a year after racking up 13 sacks), is expected to be back in the lineup against the Cardinals despite sustaining a calf injury during training camp. 

"Dee Ford is a big piece of the puzzle," Saleh said of Ford, via NBC Sports."His speed has got to be accounted for when he's out there. It just kind of opens it up for everybody else on that front and by opening it up, it just stretches the offensive line and the way they've got to protect.

"The attention that he gets, that they've got to pay attention to with regards to chipping and the different things they've got to do, just frees up everybody." 

Dee Ford
SF • DE • #55
Ford recorded 13 sacks in 2018, his last healthy season.
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2. A better Jimmy G 

It's easy to forget that 2019 was Jimmy Garoppolo's first full season as an NFL starting quarterback. The 28-year-old quarterback flourished under Shanahan's system, completing 69.1% of his passes while helping lead the 49ers to a 13-3 regular season record. And while the 49ers' offense is centered on their ground attack, Garoppolo was much more than a game manager in 2019. He threw four touchdown passes in both of his team's wins over the Cardinals last season. In Week 14, despite falling behind by double digits on the road against the Saints, Garoppolo led a 49ers comeback by throwing for four touchdowns and completing 74.3% of his passes. 

While Garoppolo came up short late in Super Bowl LIV, 49ers legend Joe Montana, who won four Super Bowls during his time in the Bay Area, believes that last year's experience should make Garoppolo a much better player in 2020. 

"He'll be back. He's a good player," Montana said of Garoppolo during an appearance on "NFL Network's Good Morning Football." "You just have to get him more opportunities to be in that situation."

Montana, who added that he feels that Garoppolo played "pretty well" in his first Super Bowl, offered tangible reasons why he feels Garoppolo should be considerably better in 2020. Along with having a full year of being a starting quarterback under his belt, Montana believes that Garoppolo ditching his knee brace will also pay substantial dividends for Garoppolo and the 49ers. 

"I had six clean-outs in my knee," Montana said, "and they wanted me to wear a brace, and you just can't get used to it. Hopefully, you'll see a fresher, different player this year, although he had a pretty good year last year. I'm looking forward to him doing the same thing."

Along with having Samuel and tight end George Kittle to throw to in 2020, Garoppolo will have a new weapon in Aiyuk, who recently earned praise from the 49ers' All-Pro tight end. 

"The things that I've noticed is that he has incredible hands and that dude is really fast," said 49ers tight end George Kittlevia NBC Sports Bay Area. "He doesn't even look like he's running, he just kind of glides along the ground. It's kind of insane. I like seeing how he can get in the huddle with the ones and he can execute. That's really fun to see, and, of course, we all mess up sometimes but he always comes in and catches the next ball.

"Honestly, I haven't seen him drop a pass which is pretty sick, too. He's having a great camp so far, and I know that the longer we are here and together, the better he's going to get."

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SF • QB • #10
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3. They're battle-tested 

As alluded to above, the 49ers will have to buck the trend of Super Bowl runner-ups who suffered a disappointing season following their appearance in the big game. But unlike most of those previous teams, the 49ers return the majority of their players who helped them reach the big game the previous season. They also added several new pieces (specifically, Williams, Kinlaw and Aiyuk) that should help make up for the pieces they parted ways with during the offseason. 

The 49ers also have something not many other teams have: the experience of actually getting to a Super Bowl. While they ultimately fell short, the 49ers managed to come out on top in arguably the league's most competitive division. They then out-muscled the Vikings in the divisional round before running over the Packers in the NFC title game. The 49ers outplayed the Chiefs for the majority of Super Bowl LIV before Patrick Mahomes took control of the game. 

Experience, like anything else, is a critical element as it relates to having success in the NFL. Just ask the 2010s Patriots, who used that experience to become the third team in history to play in three straight Super Bowls. The Patriots weren't always the best team, but they, better than any other team in the NFL over the past decade, continued to find ways to win when it mattered most. Some of that success was due to their talent and preparation, but a lot of it was due to their wealth of experience in high-pressure moments. The 49ers, unlike the Cardinals and some of the other up and coming teams in the NFC, have yet to have success in those type of moments. The 49ers did in 2019, and, if they can overcome their recent rash of injuries, should be in position to do it again in 2020.  

"The things that I've noticed is that he has incredible hands and that dude is really fast," said 49ers tight end George Kittlevia NBC Sports Bay Area. "He doesn't even look like he's running, he just kind of glides along the ground. It's kind of insane. I like seeing how he can get in the huddle with the ones and he can execute. That's really fun to see, and, of course, we all mess up sometimes but he always comes in and catches the next ball.

"Honestly, I haven't seen him drop a pass which is pretty sick, too. He's having a great camp so far, and I know that the longer we are here and together, the better he's going to get."

The 49ers also remain motivated to finish the job after falling painfully short in 2019. That motivation could help them join the '71 Cowboys, '72 Dolphins and '18 Patriots as the only teams to win the Super Bowl a year after losing the big game.

"Football is a game that gives you a lot of scars, but it's a matter of how do you come back and use those scars to learn, to grow, and then ultimately never let them happen again," tackle Mike McGlinchey said, via the Orlando Sentinel. "That's the message that this team has felt since the night of Feb. 2. I'm excited because that feeling is still there. I think it's a good thing that it bothers people when that still comes on because it's just that much more of a driving factor to get back there, and then ultimately finish the job."