NFL Preview - NFC West - San Francisco 49ers

Team: San Francisco

Mascot: 49ers

2016 Record: 2-14

Head Coach: Kyle Shanahan (first year with team)

Greatest Franchise Moment: One play changed the fortunes of the 49ers franchise forever. In the 1981 NFC Championship Game, the 49ers were trying to end decades of championship futility against the mighty Dallas Cowboys. Late in the game, the 49ers were trailing 27-21 but had driven deep inside Cowboys territory. Quarterback Joe Montana rolled out of the pocket and, on the verge of being sacked, threw off his back foot to receiver Dwight Clark, who was positioned in the back of the end zone. Clark leaped into the air and hauled in the football for a touchdown. “The Catch” propelled the 49ers to their first Super Bowl. They defeated the Cincinnati Bengals two weeks later and a dynasty was born. Without “The Catch”, the 49ers wouldn’t have won the Super Bowl at the end of the ’81 season, and it’s possible that none of the 49ers’ other Super Bowl victories would have occurred.

Random Trivia: The 49ers had sixteen consecutive seasons with at least ten victories from 1983-1998. No other franchise has experienced such a long streak of double digit winning records. However, the New England Patriots will match this achievement if they win at least ten games in 2017 and 2018.

State of the Franchise: The 49ers are starting over yet again. Former Atlanta Falcons offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan is the franchise’s fourth head coach in four years. Former Tampa Bay safety John Lynch is the new general manager. Both men were given six year contracts, so they theoretically have plenty of time to overhaul the roster.

Brian Hoyer is the frontrunner to be the 49ers’ new starting quarterback. San Francisco also drafted C.J. Beathard from Iowa and signed former Bears and Eagles quarterback Matt Barkley to be a backup. Hoyer has played well at times in his career but would never be the starting quarterback of a good NFL team. The 49ers plan to use Hoyer as a stopgap until they find a franchise quarterback.  

San Francisco hired Jacksonville linebackers coach Robert Saleh to be their new defensive coordinator. Saleh was previously a low level assistant for Pete Carroll in Seattle and was part of the Super Bowl champion 2013 team.  He will install a defense similar to Carroll’s. Saleh’s top mission will be to improve the 49ers’ absolutely horrible run defense, which ranked last in the NFL in 2016. The franchise drafted a couple of solid prospects, Stanford defensive end Solomon Thomas and Alabama linebacker Rueben Foster, to help them improve.

Schedule with Predictions in Parenthesis:

Carolina (L) – the Panthers should be over their Super Bowl 50 hangover by now.

At Seattle (L) – the 49ers have lost five in a row in Seattle, mostly in lopsided fashion.

L.A. Rams (W) - 49ers opened last season with a smashing 28-0 home victory over the Rams.

At Arizona (L) – A narrow loss last season, probably still a loss this year.

At Indianapolis (L) – A healthy Andrew Luck will test the 49er’s new-look defense.

At Washington (L) – The 49ers probably want to punch the NFL schedule makers. Third road game in a row and it’s on the east coast.

Dallas (L) – 49ers finally get to come home and then have to face off against one of the most talented teams in the NFC. Ouch.

At Philadelphia (L) – A somewhat winnable game, but the 49ers might not have much left in the tank after the brutal preceding month.

Arizona (L) – 49ers have struggled against the Cardinals in recent years, even at home.

N.Y. Giants (L) – A long road trip for the Giants, but the disparity in talent will probably be too much for the 49ers to overcome.

Bye

Seattle (L) – 49ers have lost seven in a row to the Hawks, including three in a row at home.

At Chicago (W) – One of the few winnable road games on the schedule.

At Houston (L) – Texans’ defense will be way too fierce for the 49ers to handle.

Tennessee L) – The Titans could be fighting for a playoff bid here, while the 49ers will probably have long since been eliminated.

Jacksonville (W) – the 49ers should thank the football gods that this game is on the schedule.

At L.A. Rams (L) – Niners won this game last year, but that was against a Rams team going through the motions with an interim head coach.

Prediction: The 49ers have a first-time head coach, first-time general manager, first-time defensive coordinator, a new quarterback, and the same incompetent ownership. Shanahan and Lynch may be able to turn around this franchise’s fortunes eventually, but this looks like a long rebuilding job. Expecting more than marginal improvement in 2017 is unrealistic.

Predicted Record: 3-13