In 2017, it was truly a tale of two seasons for the San Francisco 49ers. The 49ers lost their first nine games of the season, spoiling Kyle Shanahan’s first season as an NFL head coach. However, when Jimmy Garoppolo took over as the team’s starting quarterback, the 49ers won their final five games, including three against playoff-bound teams, to finish the season 6-10.
With Garoppolo signing a long-term extension to be the face of the franchise, things are suddenly looking up for San Francisco. Despite playing in a division that has plenty of competitive balance, the 49ers are expected to compete for a playoff spot and perhaps even be a sleeper for the Super Bowl in Garoppolo’s first full season as a starter.
Of course, oddsmakers have the 49ers a little down the totem pole for Super Bowl contenders at +2500. On the off chance that Garoppolo is indeed the second coming of Tom Brady, it could be worth taking a chance on those odds. However, San Francisco isn’t a serious Super Bowl contender. The 49ers are projected to win nine games this season and based on their success late last season, there’s a good chance San Francisco can match or exceed that number.
Obviously, San Francisco’s success in 2018 appears tied to Garoppolo. On the one hand, he averaged over 300 yards per game passing in his starts last year and has now had a full offseason to become familiar with Shanahan’s playbook. At the same time, he also threw five interceptions in those five games, he lacks experience, and there is now a little bit of film on him for opposing teams to dissect. That could make success a little more difficult than most people expect.
The 49ers also need to hope that Marquise Goodwin and Pierre Garcon can continue to be a formidable receiving duo. Those two are solid but won’t frighten many teams. San Francisco is expecting another solid season from tight end George Kittle while also hoping that second-round pick Dante Pettis is the kind of rookie that can make an instant impact. Otherwise, Garoppolo could be a little short on playmakers.
San Francisco is also in the process of revamping its rushing attack. Jerick McKinnon was signed to be the starting running back. Shanahan believes he will fit the team’s running scheme better than Carlos Hyde. The 49ers also signed Weston Richburg in free agency and drafted tackle Mike McGlinchey to help give a troubled offensive line a quick makeover.
There are also some questions on the defensive side of the ball. On paper, the defensive line has plenty of talent, but not enough of a pass rush. Only Elvis Dumervil had more than three sacks last year, and he’s not back with the team this year. The 49ers also can’t be sure that they can rely on middle linebacker Reuben Foster, who got himself into a world of legal trouble during the offseason and will be suspended to start the season.
In the secondary, the 49ers signed Richard Sherman, who should be a big help. However, he’s had some trouble staying healthy, so there’s no guarantee he ends up making a serious impact. Outside of him, there’s not a whole lot in San Francisco’s secondary worth getting excited about.
Overall, the 49ers have a fairly average roster. There is some hope that their offensive line will improve, but their skill players aren’t exactly game changers and their defense is littered with questions. That means it will be up to Garoppolo to raise the entire team’s level of play and carry the 49ers on their back if they’re going to compete for a playoff spot in 2018.
|Sep 9||@ Minnesota Vikings||1:00 PM|
|Sep 16||Detroit Lions||4:05 PM|
|Sep 23||@ Kansas City Chiefs||1:00 PM|
|Sep 30||@ Los Angeles Chargers||4:25 PM|
|Oct 7||Arizona Cardinals||4:25 PM|
|Oct 15||@ Green Bay Packers||8:15 PM|
|Oct 21||Los Angeles Rams||8:20 PM|
|Oct 28||@ Arizona Cardinals||4:25 PM|
|Nov 1||Oakland Raiders||8:20 PM|
|Nov 12||New York Giants||8:15 PM|
|Nov 25||@ Tampa Bay Buccaneers||1:00 PM|
|Dec 2||@ Seattle Seahawks||8:20 PM|
|Dec 9||Denver Broncos||4:05 PM|
|Dec 16||Seattle Seahawks||4:05 PM|
|Dec 23||Chicago Bears||4:05 PM|
|Dec 30||@ Los Angeles Rams||4:25 PM|
At first glance, the 49ers appear to have a manageable schedule. They play only four games against teams that went to the playoffs last season. But that may not guarantee an easy schedule for San Francisco in 2018.
Week 1: at Vikings – Loss
As good as Garoppolo looked last season, he faces a tough road test in Week 1. Vikings fans will no doubt be fired up at the start of the season, which doesn’t bode well for San Francisco’s chances to win on the road.
Week 2: vs Lions – Loss
New Lions coach Matt Patricia should know Garoppolo quite well from their time together in New England. That means Patricia will know how to make Garoppolo uncomfortable. Remember, he’s young and so turnovers will be a normal thing. In this game, it’ll be what costs the 49ers their home opener.
Week 3: at Chiefs – Loss
The Chiefs have questions about their young quarterback, but they still have a good defense. More importantly, playing at Arrowhead Stadium is no picnic. Without enough help around Garoppolo, this isn’t a game San Francisco is likely to win.
Week 4: at Chargers – Win
By Week 4, San Francisco’s offensive line will start to gel, keeping Garoppolo protected against a vaunted Chargers pass rush. With time in the pocket, Garoppolo will pick apart the secondary and give the 49ers their first win of the season.
Week 5: vs Cardinals – Win
After getting their first win of the season the previous week, Garoppolo and the 49ers will be relaxed at home against the Cardinals. It won’t be as easy as the 7-point spread suggests, but the 49ers will scratch out a win.
Week 6: at Packers – Loss
This is an intriguing Monday night matchup between Garoppolo and Aaron Rodgers. But is Garoppolo really going to out-duel Rodgers at Lambeau Field on a Monday night? The edge has to go to the veteran and the home team.
Week 7: vs Rams – Win
The 49ers actually matched up well with the Rams last season, including a late-season win. To be fair, the Rams rested a lot of their starters in that game. Nevertheless, the 49ers pull off a little surprise and hold serve at home against the NFC West favorites.
Week 8: at Cardinals – Loss
The 49ers are slight favorites in this game heading into the season. But the Arizona defense should get better over the course of the season. They’ll also be better at home, so they’ll manage to trip up Garoppolo and the 49ers in this one.
Week 9: vs Raiders – Win
This is a Thursday night game between a pair of Bay Area rivals. With the short week, it’ll actually be San Francisco’s running game that gets the better of the Raiders.
Week 10: vs Giants – Win
The Giants had a nightmare of a time coming to San Francisco last season. This time, they have to make the trip on a Monday night and have to see Garoppolo rather than C.J. Beathard. Of course, the 49ers will have to face Eli Manning rather than Geno Smith. Either way, Garoppolo helps San Francisco win the turnover battle and the game.
Week 11: Bye
Week 12: at Buccaneers – Loss
San Francisco isn’t much better than Tampa, and a west coast team playing on the east coast is rarely a good combination. This will be a tough one to swallow for the 49ers, as it’ll be a long plane ride back to San Francisco.
Week 13: at Seahawks – Loss
Winning in Seattle is hard enough, but playing a primetime game there on a Sunday night is only going to make things harder. Seattle’s defense has seen better days, but the Seahawks will still be tough to pick apart at home.
Week 14: vs Broncos – Loss
On the heels of back-to-back losses, Garoppolo and the 49ers will be running short on confidence. That’s not a good combination against a Broncos team that can get after the quarterback. Garoppolo has a rough day as the 49ers lose their third straight.
Week 15: vs Seahawks – Win
San Francisco snaps a three-game losing streak against the Seahawks, a team that isn’t so scary when you get them on your home field.
Week 16: vs Bears – Win
The Bears enter the season in a similar position to the 49ers. Both teams will have grown by the time Week 16 rolls around. But in a virtual coin-flip, the edge goes to the home team.
Week 17: at Rams – Loss
As long as the Rams have something to play for in this game, they’ll be tough to beat on their home field. Odds are the Los Angeles faithful will be celebrating the end of a great season with high hopes for the postseason. That momentum will help the Rams steamroll the 49ers in the season finale.