What weak schedule? Why you should lean into this season’s 49ers’ romp to the playoffs

Is the third time going to be the charm?

For the third time since he arrived in San Francisco, Kyle Shanahan ’s 49ers team is headed to the playoffs. And it is already, before it even officially has started, a different journey than in the past.

In the 2019 season, the 49ers clinched a playoff spot in Week 15, but it wasn’t until the final play of the regular season that they clinched the division title and the top seed in the conference. After a bye and two playoff wins at home, they lost in the Super Bowl.

In the 2021 season, the 49ers didn’t clinch a playoff spot until the final play of the regular season when, in overtime, Ambry Thomas intercepted a pass from the Rams’ Matthew Stafford. After winning two playoff games on the road, they lost in the NFC Championship Game.

This season? Yawn.

“We’ve known that we’re going for a while now,” fullback Kyle Juszczyk said.

The 49ers wrapped up the division the way Joe Montana and Steve Young did: well before Christmas. They’ve known they’re going to the playoffs for weeks — since the Dec. 15 win at Seattle, when they clinched the NFC West title, guaranteeing themselves at least one home game.

Could that mean that this team — that finished with the No. 2 seed in the NFC — could take another page from Montana and Young? Could the 49ers end their 27-season drought of not winning a Super Bowl?

Well, it’s a definite maybe.

“I felt really good about our team when we won the division about a month ago and I feel better about them now,” Shanahan said Sunday. “I think we’ve gotten better since that point.”

First, let’s dispense with the major critique: The 49ers had a soft schedule. The 49ers played just five teams that made the playoffs, three of those squeaked in as wild cards and one (Tampa Bay) was a division winner with a losing record. The other, Kansas City, thrashed the 49ers.

But you play the teams your schedule gives you. Overall, the league was relatively soft, and even the best teams stumbled: Kansas City lost at Indianapolis, Buffalo lost to the Jets.

The 49ers put together a 10-game win streak to end the season (“Against nobody !” the critics scream) and for the most, part beat their opponents soundly. They have the largest scoring margin in the league at plus-173. The No. 3 seed Minnesota Vikings, in contrast, have a minus-3 scoring margin. The 49ers also lead the league in turnover margin at plus-13.

The 49ers are tested in different ways. They had three extremely ugly losses in the first six weeks of the season, at Chicago, Denver and Atlanta. But, with no margin for error, they have been in playoff mode ever since mid-October. And it worked: They righted the ship and lost only one more time the rest of the way.

“When you’re winning 10 games in a row, you’re usually doing something right,” Juszczyk said after the season finale. “I feel like we have good momentum. This was a great game to end the season. … We came out healthy again. And I think things are lined up pretty well.”

At more than one point, it looked like the 49ers were on the verge of losing another season because of extensive injuries. They lost two starting quarterbacks to season-ending injury. They lost their starting running back, their top defensive tackle, their outside linebacker. George Kittle , Deebo Samuel and Nick Bosa were all hurting. The 49ers’ weekly injury list was its usual lengthy offering filled with key players.

But now, the 49ers are as healthy as they’ve been. It’s still shocking, but they have stability at the quarterback position in rookie Brock Purdy . Because of the early injuries, they have a lot of players who’ve contributed. All of that is why Shanahan feels better about the team now than when it clinched.

“I think the more we play together, the more our guys stay healthy, the better the get,” he said. “I think our running game has gotten better with the way we’ve been blocking. I think having Deebo out, having Elijah (Mitchell) out, it’s put more pressure on other guys, which usually helps guys. I think Christian (McCaffrey) got a lot more used to our style and I think he’s getting better as it goes.

“Sometimes it takes time to click. And I think we’re getting better with time.”

McCaffrey is a huge reason that the 49ers are in great position for a run to the Super Bowl and to maybe end that drought when they get there. He’s a significant part of the argument that this team is better than the 2019 Super Bowl team. McCaffrey and Mitchell rather than the Raheem Mostert-Matt Breida-Tevin Coleman rotation at running back. Samuel now and Brandon Aiyuk rather than Samuel as a rookie and Emmanuel Sanders at receiver. Seasoned linebacker Fred Warner and ovewhelming Bosa, compared with second-year Warner and rookie Bosa.

And, who knows? Maybe Purdy will be the quarterback who can get the 49ers and Shanahan over the hump.

Overall, the 49ers are a more experienced and savvier team than they were in 2019, and are in better position, thanks to home playoff games, than they were in last season’s run. This looks like a team that could get back to the Super Bowl, and chase away some demons once there.

“This opportunity that we’re in is crazy,” Kittle said. “We’ve got home advantage for two games, so we better take advantage of it. We’ve set ourselves up for success and now we’ve just got to go execute.”

Third time’s the charm? A definite maybe.

Ann Killion is a columnist for The San Francisco Chronicle. Email: akillion@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @annkillion