Nothing is ever official until the team says so, but all signs from the players involved point to Justin Smith being back in time for the playoffs.

I’m sure I don’t need to tell you how good that news is.

Smith spoke briefly in the locker room on Friday, telling reporters that he’d be “ready to roll,” even if the 49ers ended up playing on wild card weekend. Luckily, the Cowboy will have an extra week to rest his torn tricep muscle in preparation for the divisional playoff, officially set for January 12th at 5 PM PST. The 49ers will be facing either the Packers, Redskins or Seahawks.

Ricky Jean Francois, who has been starting in place of Smith for the last two weeks, echoed his teammate’s positivity following the 49ers’ 27-13 win over the Cardinals.

“All I gotta say with that is saddle up,” Jean Francois said. “He’s coming. He’s got his horse, it’s a thoroughbred, and he’s coming.”

Regardless of their opponent, this is fantastic news for the 49ers. Looking back on the defense’s prowess over the last two seasons, the fact that Smith wasn’t awarded defensive MVP last year is becoming more and more laughable. San Francisco’s defense was holding opponents to a league-best 14.6 points per game in the 13 contests leading up to their game in New England, and they held the Patriots to three points in the half that Smith played. Once he left, however, the 49ers defense surrendered 31 points, and another 35 to the Seahawks the next week. The 49ers’ defense did well to contain the Cardinals, basically allowing 6 points (and a garbage time touchdown from the backups), but let’s consider the competition and temper ourselves before announcing that they’ve bounced back.

Packing defense for the playoffs

The 49ers will need all the help they can get for the first round, because all three of their possible adversaries can bring it offensively. Two of them the 49ers have already seen, with either the Packers coming to town no doubt sore from their loss in Week 1 or the Seahawks rivalry looking to write a third 2012 chapter. The final alternative is the upstart Washington Redskins, who are coming into the playoffs strong after handling the Cowboys to extend their winning streak to seven.

While Washington and Seattle possess a more fierce running game than the Packers, all three teams do have one thing in common: fantastic, elusive and deadly quarterbacks. We’ve talked about Aldon Smith’s disappearing pass rush ad nauseum, so for our sake let’s hope that we were right to blame it on the absence of Justin Smith.  The 49ers have shown they can handle mobile quarterbacks (see: Vick, Michael and Roethlisberger, Ben), but they’ve done it at full strength.

If what Smith and Jean Francois are saying is true, the healing would be miraculous. But then again, sometimes you need a little divine intervention when the playoffs roll around.