Ray Ratto

49ers' playoff plan starts now

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49ers' playoff plan starts now

The number of folks who have been wrong about the 49ers are legion -- probably including the 49ers themselves.

And while they have been basking the glory of being 7-1 when most folks saw far less, the interesting part starts now. The playoff plans start now. The expectations start now.

The world is now different, and the comparison point is no longer Mike Singletary, but Bill Walsh.

We know how they got here, because the story is told breathlessly every single day. A decent defense is now elite. A poor offense is now careful and efficient. Frank Gore has been revivified -- revivified himself. Other than grabbing their throats against Dallas, they have beaten bad teams, underachieving teams, confounding teams and intriguing teams on bad days.

RELATED: Midseason review: Offense

The how they got here doesnt matter, though. Theyre 7-1, and nobody else is. Its how they intend to keep doing as theyve done so as to maximize their tickets in January.

The Harbaugh Family Singers have made a hit record out of that old Anglican hymn Whos Got It Better Than us? And while the refrain has routinely been No-body, the answer is actually key to their long-term health.

Long-term, of course, being the playoffs.

RELATED: Midseason review: Defense

By now, being up five with eight to go means their magic number is four. But being five up on Seattle and Arizona, and six up on St. Louis, is as close to unconditional center as one can get this early in the process. None of the other even have wild card aspirations, so they have nothing to play for save their own safety.

Thus, their world has gotten considerably smaller, and as a result these are their new obstacles:

RELATED: Midseason review: Special teams

GREEN BAY
The toughest of all, because the one thing the Packers cannot do, the 49ers have shown no signs of exploiting. Green Bay is an easy mark for a top-level quarterback with lots of weapons, but the 49ers have not shown any signs of having either. And the Packers force teams into a shootout, which the 49ers are loath to engage. They also rank among the top teams in the league against the run, which would seem to force the 49ers to throw even more. The key to a deep run in January, then, demands that they avoid the Packers in the second round.

NEW ORLEANS
The Saints are a lot like the Packers, only with a more accomplished running game, and a less accomplished run defense. In short, Gore will get his, but hell have to get his and then some to keep up with what Drew Brees and his offense are used to getting. The 49ers will be better positioned if they can get the Saints at home, but that would be the case with every team but Green Bay anyway.

NEW YORK GIANTS
Everything you need to know about the wildly dysfunctional NFL East is explained by the Giants being two games better than anyone else in it. The Giants have no discernible running game, and Eli Mannings renaissance explains why they are not treading mud with the Eagles and Redskins. They are also generous against the run, putting them particularly vulnerable against a team that likes to run and thrives against one-dimensional offenses.

CHICAGO
Matt Forte is most of the offense, and the defense is better against the run than the pass. At home, they are difficult. On the road, they are ordinary. They will be a wild card team, so their stay isnt likely to be long or fruitful.

ATLANTA
The Falcons are excellent against the run, mediocre against the pass, and middle of the pack in all offensive phases. In short, Matt Ryan has to steal a game, and while he is capable enough of doing so that Atlanta could end up winning the South and hosting an opening round game, theyll have to play the second week out in the open. They are 9-4 over the past two years outside Georgia, but theyre not nearly so imposing outside.

Every other team is 4-4 or worse, and while theres lots of time left to change the wild card and NFL South teams, the 49ers world view looks suspiciously narrow -- Wisconsin and Louisiana.

So Whos Got It Better Than Them? Were going to find out soon enough. The fact that theyre going to have wait for their fate is news enough.

Ray Ratto is a columnist for Comcast SportsNet Bay Area.

Celtics are the rivals Warriors fans need

Celtics are the rivals Warriors fans need

You don’t think you needed this game to go this way, but you did, and you do.

The Golden State Warriors spat out a 17-point lead and lost, 92-88, in Boston Thursday night, in a game that was taut if not particularly elegant, and in a game that elevated the Celtics to a place that makes them the new heir apparent to the heir apparent.

The Celtics have been a difficult out for the Warriors during the Brad Stevens Era, losing six of nine but only being blown out twice, and Thursday was not one of those nights. The box score will tell you the shooting and rebounding problems, but the Warriors had that lead and didn’t hold it. Or, to be accurate, the Celtics had that deficit and refused to let it destroy them.

Which is exactly the kind of team you, the fully licensed Warrior fan, want to watch play your team in the NBA Finals. You want to see them genuinely challenged, forced to win outside their comfort zone, induced to show their greatness in the highest of high leverage situations.

At least we think that’s what you want. Maybe you prefer blowouts so you can drink and go to the bathroom without care or fear. After all, the Warriors have taught the area the true meaning of front-running by being in front so often.

But the Celtics play a level of defense typically reserved for the San Antonio Spurs, and yes, the Warriors. They have a spiky exoskeleton that the acquisition of Kyrie Irving has actually enhanced, and Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum give them a gifted precocity that fits well with veterans like Al Horford and Marcus Morris, and Boston’s overall youth (they are fifth youngest, while Golden State is third-oldest) ought to make them a more difficult conundrum than Cleveland or any other team in either conference.

They are not yet the superior team; that remains to be proven, and betting against the Warriors requires a level of irrational bravery left only for the truly self-destructive.

But they are, as we sit this evening, the team the Warriors will have to work hardest to finish, because on a night when they had the chance to do so, they didn’t. In other words, the fight for a third ring still goes through Oakland, but it looks more and more like a one-stop through Boston.

And as much as you may hate thinking about it, you’ll almost certainly remember, and savor, a Celtics-Warriors final more than another round of Cavs-on-the-half-shell.

Three reasons Draymond Green is the perfect college professor

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AP

Three reasons Draymond Green is the perfect college professor

Programming note: Warriors-Celtics coverage starts today at 4 p.m. on NBC Sports Bay Area and streaming live right here 

Draymond Green spoke to a group of students at Harvard Thursday on the subject of leadership, and if you find that incongruous, shame on you.
 
I mean, who else would you want as a college professor?
 
Green has led, and been led. He has learned, and he has taught. He has certainly lectured, as any teammate, official and media member will testify. He’d be a hell of a teacher, and the subject almost doesn’t matter.
 
For one, homework would be different, as in I’d bet there would be no written work. I don’t see Prof. Day-Day poring over essays about the Industrial Revolution, M-theory or pre-Raphaelite art. Not even the history of Basketball-Reference.com.

For two, having tenured faculty audit his classes may find his choice of rhetoric a little strident, as in “What the ---- were you thinking, dude?” is not typically approved instructional methodology.
 
And three, nobody would get a grade. Green would mark every exam with a “35,” as in his draft position, and besides, the exams would be students arguing with each other over whether that was a foul or a no-call, and who pulled the better face when the call was made. He’d give either an approving nod or give the loser a second technical foul and kick him or her out of class.
 
But it would be a hell of a class. Not at Harvard, of course, because Green probably would want to teach a school that could better use his brand of wisdom, and Harvard kids already have a healthy lead off third base. He’d want his students to make Harvard students cry, you can just tell.
 
But wouldn’t he look perfectly Draymond in a cap and gown on graduation day, pulling a bottle out of his sleeve to make the valedictory speeches less painful. “Damn, dude,” you could hear him yell. “Peaking?”