Being considered the second best team in football is a pretty good place to be, but it can be frustrating when you are also the second best team in your own division.
That is the plight of the San Francisco 49ers in the ultra-competitive NFC West, who despite a 12-4 record last season were forced to take the long playoff road to the NFC Championship and were defeated by the eventual champion Seattle Seahawks in a road game.
With a 21 touchdown, eight interception season a year after leading his team to the Super Bowl, quarterback Colin Kaepernick has established himself as a bona fide NFL starter with the ability to win in big games.
He also rushed for four touchdowns and 524 yards as he continues to show his skills as a duel threat from the quarterback position.
The 49ers acquired former Jacksonville Jaguars pivot Blaine Gabbert to be their backup, but obviously will need Kaepernick to stay healthy this season to help lead their offence.
To help in the passing game the 49ers have put together a dynamic group of targets for their mobile quarterback.
Receivers Anquan Boldin and Michael Crabtree as well as tight end Vernon Davis are still going to be important parts of the attack, but Stevie Johnson and Brandon Lloyd have been added to the core group and should help the team, especially if they are forced to deal with injuries at the position.
Everyone is waiting for the season that Frank Gore suffers a drop off, but it wasn't the 2013 season and though it can happen in a flash, the 49ers are not expecting it to be this season either.
Gore carried the ball 276 times for 1,128 yards, his second highest career total and also scored nine touchdowns out of the backfield.
They will struggle for depth at the running back position as Kendall Hunter suffered a torn ACL in the preseason and LaMichael James had an early elbow injury that set back his season preparation.
Carlos Hyde was drafted out of Ohio State and the 49ers hope at some point Marcus Lattimore will be healthy enough to contribute, though starting a second season on the non-football injury list is not a great sign for his future.
The offensive line is a standout position for the 49ers and they will lean on their big men once again this season to protect Kaepernick and blow those holes open for the running game.
With Joe Staley on the left tackle side and Anthony Davis on the right tackle side the skilled players in the backfield are well protected. Add to those players Mike Iupati and Alex Boone who will be in the guard positions and the line will be a tough place to beat this team.
Defensively the 49ers will have to replace both Aldon Smith, who has been suspended for the first nine games of the season and NaVorro Bowman who suffered a major knee injury late in the 2013 NFC championship.
Patrick Willis is still one of the best players in the game at the linebacker position and he will be leaned upon to produce at the lofty levels he has been known for throughout his career.
Ahmad Brooks is also going to be key at the outside linebacker slot and will have to put pressure on opponents passing games from that spot on the field.
The 49ers move into Levi's Stadium this year and hope to turn it into as hard a place to play as CenturyLink Field is for the division rival Seahawks.
Week 13 in San Francisco and Week 15 in Seattle will be the most important games on the schedule and could very well decide the division and if both teams play to expectations, who hosts the NFC Championship rematch both teams will believe they are headed towards.