USA Today this week released its projected win-loss record for all 32 teams - the site had Green Bay over Indianapolis in the Super Bowl. Not sure I agree with the Colts, but OK. We are here to talk about the 49ers, and they were projected to finish last in the NFC West at 5-11. Now, that I agree with.
In my mind, this franchise is back to the Mike Singletary days where it's not good enough to finish with a winning record but not bad enough to perhaps get the No. 1 overall pick and kick-start a full rebuild. The Niners, of course, lost Coach Jim Harbaugh as well as a ton off their defense to retirement this offseason. And now comes news that linebacker Aldon Smith, a very good player when he actually is on the field, was arrested Thursday on DUI, hit-and-run and vandalism charges. He has had major off-field problems and missed a large chunk of last year suspended. He was subsequently cut by the team. That defense used to have more talent than any group in the NFL, and now it's a huge question mark.
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And what is Colin Kaepernick exactly? Guy looked like the future of the NFL in 2012 but has steadily regressed since. He completed 60.5 percent of his passes for 3,369 yards and 19 scores last season with 10 picks. Maybe 15 years ago those are very good numbers. Not today. Two of Kaepernick's key players from last season, receiver Michael Crabtree and running back Frank Gore, are also gone. The Super Bowl will be held at the 49ers' stadium in February, but they won't be in it.
The Niners were 4-4 on the road last season, 4-3-1 against the spread and 3-5 "over/under." While San Francisco's home schedule is the toughest in the NFL, its road slate is 11th-hardest with an opponents' combined 2014 winning percentage of .539. That's the easiest in the NFC West.
Here's the schedule with very early (opponent) odds. There are four road games against 2014 playoff teams.
Sept. 20 -- at Steelers (-2.5): Double-whammy here as Niners on a really short week as they play in the late Monday night doubleheader opener and then have to travel across country for a 10 a.m. Pacific time start in Pittsburgh. The Steelers, meanwhile, have extra time as they are in New England in the Thursday season opener. One break for the Niners is this will be the final game of star Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell's suspension. First meeting since 2011. 49ers lose this. Key trend: Niners 1-4-1 ATS in six games at AFC North teams.
Sept. 27 -- at Cardinals (-2.5): Arizona is off a Week 2 game in Chicago. The Niners and Cardinals played Week 3 in Arizona last season as well, and the Cards won 23-14 behind backup QB Drew Stanton. San Francisco was up 14-6 at halftime. Kaepernick was 29-for-37 for 245 yards with a pick. Gore rushed for 10 yards on six carries. It was only the 49ers' second loss in the past 11 meetings with Arizona (which signed one the Niners' best offensive linemen, guard Mike Iupati, this offseason). 49ers lose this. Key trend: Niners are 6-0 ATS all-time as a dog at Arizona.
Oct. 11 -- at Giants (pick'em): San Francisco is off a Week 4 home game with Green Bay. New York is in Buffalo the previous Sunday. Break here for the Niners that it's a Sunday night game instead of a 1 p.m. ET start. San Francisco won 16-10 at the Giants in Week 11 last year. Linebacker Chris Borland, one of those guys who has retired, intercepted a fourth-down pass by Eli Manning at the 49ers 2 with 4:43 to play to cap a goal-line stand. It was Borland's second pick of the game as he joined Ken Norton Jr. in 1995 as the only 49ers linebackers with two interceptions in a game over the past 40 years. The 49res picked off Manning five times, but the offense couldn't do much. Kaepernick was 15-for-29 for 193 yards with a score. 49ers lose this. Key trend: Niners have covered five straight at NFC East teams.
Nov. 1 -- at Rams (-1): San Francisco is off a Thursday night home game against Seattle in Week 7, while St. Louis is home to Cleveland the previous Sunday. The 49ers won 31-17 in St. Louis in Week 6 on a Monday last year. It was easily Kaepernick's best game of the season as he threw for 343 yards and three scores. The Niners actually trailed 14-0 midway through the second quarter. Brandon Lloyd's 80-yard touchdown reception just before halftime was the turning point in the game, turning a 14-3 deficit into 14-10. Kaepernick is 4-0 as a starter on "Monday Night Football" in his career. 49ers lose this. Key trend: Niners 6-4 ATS in past 10 at St. Louis.
Nov. 22 -- at Seahawks (-5.5): San Francisco comes out of its bye week, while Seattle is home to Arizona in Week 10. The 49ers were beaten 17-7 in Seattle in Week 15 last year to officially be eliminated from playoff contention. Kaepernick was sacked six times, threw for only 141 yards, and the 49ers didn't run a play past the Seattle 38 in the second half. 49ers lose this. Key trend: Niners 2-7-1 ATS in past 10 after a bye (any location).
Dec. 6 -- at Bears (+1): San Francisco comes off a home game vs. Arizona, while Chicago is at Green Bay on Thursday night in Week 12. The 49ers lost 28-20 in Week 2 to the Bears last season despite leading 20-7 entering the fourth quarter. Kaepernick had four turnovers, two in the fourth quarter, and was sacked four times. That was the first regular-season game at the new Levi's Stadium. 49ers win this. Key trend: Niners 5-3-2 ATS in past 10 at NFC North teams.
Dec. 13 -- at Browns (+2.5): Second straight 1 p.m. start for San Francisco, so I'd be willing to guess the team stays somewhere in the Midwest to practice following the Chicago game. Cleveland is off a Week 13 home game vs. Cincinnati. First San Francisco trip to Cleveland since 2007. Niners win. Key trend: Niners 7-3 ATS in past 10 as road favorite of at least 2.5 points.
Dec. 27 -- at Lions (-1.5): San Francisco is off a Week 15 home game vs. Cincinnati before closing at home vs. St. Louis. Short week for Detroit off a Monday game in New Orleans. The Niners added former Lions running back Reggie Bush in free agency. San Francisco has won nine straight in series, last in 2012. That streak ends. Key trend: Niners 3-7 ATS in past 10 as road dog in December.
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