49ers quarterback Alex Smith talks strategy with Coach Jim Harbaugh during… (Cliff Owen / Associated…)
In keeping with the holiday season, you can give some of these NFL predictions and assumptions the heave-ho-ho-ho.
Assumption: Winning the division gives you at least a year of job security.
Truth: Tell that to Todd Haley, ousted by Kansas City less than a year after directing the Chiefs to their first AFC West title since 2006.
Assumption: Teams that staged those player-run workouts during the off-season were better off.
Truth: Not holding them worked just fine for the 13-1 Green Bay Packers, averaging a league-best 34.3 points per game.
Assumption: Heaven help those new coaches who, because of the lockout, barely met their players before August.
Truth: That's worked out fine for San Francisco's Jim Harbaugh and Denver's John Fox, both atop their divisions; and Tennessee's Mike Munchak and Oakland's Hue Jackson are still in the playoff hunt too. Of those four, only Jackson had prior experience with his current franchise. In Dallas, the Cowboys lead the NFC East with Jason Garrett in his first full season as coach.
Assumption: Denver would have a doughnut defense — lots on the outside and nothing in the middle.
Truth: Although defensive tackle Marcel Dareus would have been a solid use of the No. 2 pick, the Broncos aren't complaining about taking outside linebacker Von Miller, who has 111/2 sacks.
Assumption: He did well at University of San Diego, and, yes, he turned things around at Stanford, but the pros are a different story.
Truth: Harbaugh's 49ers are 11-3, already five wins better than last season.
Assumption: But San Francisco plays in a lousy division.
Truth: Despite the struggles of the St. Louis Rams, the NFC West is on the rise. The Cardinals and Seahawks have combined to win 11 of their last 13 games, with six of those victories against non-division opponents.
Assumption: The 49ers would have to finally cut ties with Alex Smith.
Truth: Smith has flourished in Harbaugh's system with 16 touchdowns and five interceptions, and the coach envisions him as the club's "long-term" quarterback.
Assumption: A team is bigger than one player.
Truth: Tell that to Indianapolis.
Assumption: Reggie Bush is more a gadget than a traditional back.
Truth: Lately, Miami has been leaning on him heavily. From 2006 through Week 11 of this season, he had two 100-yard games. But in the last three weeks, he's rushed for 100, 103 and 203 yards. With two games to go, he's 27 yards away from his first 1,000-yard season.
Assumption: Cam Newton? Bust.
Truth: OK, so maybe that's a little harsh. But most people didn't predict the Carolina rookie would be as impressive as he's been. He has accounted for 30 touchdowns (17 passing, 13 rushing), more than any first-year player in NFL history.
Assumption: Bengals draft? Bust.
Truth: Taking receiver A.J. Green in the first round, and quarterback Andy Dalton in the second, was a spectacular one-two punch for a franchise that is often — but not always deservedly — a punch line.
Assumption: Philip Rivers has to be hiding an injury.
Truth: That was the buzz when the San Diego quarterback racked up a career-high 17 interceptions through his first 10 games. Rivers, who insisted he was healthy, has turned things around in his last four games with eight touchdowns and no interceptions.
Assumption: Law of averages says Takeo Spikes makes it to the playoffs at some point.
Truth: It's not looking good for the Chargers linebacker who's on track to miss the postseason for a 14th consecutive season. He's played for five franchises and appeared in 201 games, more than any current player who has never made the playoffs. Among the others on that list are Buffalo's kicker Rian Lindell and punter Brian Moorman, and Detroit offensive linemen Jeff Backus and Dominic Raiola.
Assumption: Everybody saw this Green Bay Packers juggernaut coming a mile away.
Truth: This time last year, the Packers were 8-6, had a third of their team on injured reserve and needed to win out to sneak into the playoffs. They won 19 of their next 20 games.
Assumption: You can't consistently win with Tim Tebow at quarterback.
Truth: The Broncos are 7-2 this season with him starting at quarterback. Debate to be continued.