2020 San Francisco 49ers Predictions and Season Win Total Picks
The Curse of the Super Bowl loser is a real phenomenon in the NFL. And this year it will serve as the underlying storyline of the San Francisco 49ers season.
San Francisco’s fourth quarter collapse against Kansas City in February’s Super Bowl – head coach Kyle Shanahan’s second championship game cataclysm in four years – has lingered over the 49ers franchise all offseason. And now they will try to buck a long-term trend and get themselves back to The Big Game.
Only three teams in league history – the 1971 Cowboys, 1972 Dolphins and 2018 Patriots – managed to win the Super Bowl the year after losing in it. Over the past 30 years, there are numerous examples of teams that made it to the Super Bowl one year only to follow that season up by missing the playoffs or posting a losing record.
In fact, two of the last four Super Bowl losers – 2016 Panthers and 2019 Rams – failed to make the playoffs the year after losing in the Super Bowl. Since 2002, seven of the previous 17 Super Bowl losers didn’t make it back to the postseason the following season.
The 49ers do seem well situated to avoid a major collapse this season. They boast one of the best defenses in football, including a dominating from seven that was No. 5 in the league in sacks. San Francisco had the No. 1 pass defense in the league, and they were No. 6 in turnovers, generating 25 on the season.
Offensively, the Shanahan/Kubiak system, featuring zone blocking in the running game and an assortment of bootlegs and play action in the passing attack, has been a proven winner in the NFL since Kyle’s dad, Mike Shanahan, was winning Super Bowls with it back in the 1990’s. Last year the 49ers were No. 4 in total offense thanks to the league’s No. 2 ranked rushing game. They averaged 30 points per game (No. 2).
In fact, there is still room to grow for this 49ers offense. They were just No. 20 in the league in red zone touchdown percentage. They added Pro Bowl left tackle Trent Williams this offseason, and Jimmy Garoppolo should continue to improve after his first full season as a starter.
Garoppolo has taken a lot of heat this offseason after the 49ers essentially phased him out of the offense during the postseason run. He threw just 27 total passes in playoff wins over Minnesota and Green Bay before tossing two interceptions in an uneven Super Bowl effort. How you feel about the 49ers chances this year is likely a reflection of how you feel about Garoppolo.
The 49ers still have one of the best rosters in the NFC. But they aren’t without weaknesses. Losing Emmanuel Sanders to the Saints is a big blow to a paper thin receiving corps that has battled injuries all preseason. Defensively, I think their pass defense is going to regress. Prior to last season’s No. 1 ranking, they were ranked 11th in 2018 and 22nd in 2017. I can see a bit of a drop-off coming after overachieving last season. And both their offensive and defensive yards per game are in a range that has me expecting a regression.
There is also the fact that the 49ers are in a rapidly improving division. Seattle remains a powerhouse and will be as long as Rusty Wilson and Pete Carroll are together. Arizona is on the come. And the Rams are still dangerous despite some key personnel losses.
Fortunately for the 49ers, they have a relatively easy opening portion of the schedule. A two-weekend East Coast road trip in Weeks 2 and 3 could be tricky. But they will be major favorites against both the Jets and Giants. After that, they get a three-game homestand against the Eagles, Dolphins and Rams, and a 5-1 or 6-0 start isn’t entirely out of the question.
But from there things get harsh. In successive weeks they play at New England, at Seattle vs. Green Bay and at New Orleans. A Week 11 bye will give a respite but late season road games against the Rams, Cowboys and Cardinals and home games against the Bills, Redskins and Seahawks comprise a tough stretch run.
San Francisco’s 10.5 Las Vegas season win total seems like easy pickings. The 49ers won 13 games last season, and the core of its team remains intact. But over the last 17 years Super Bowl losers have only averaged 9.2 wins the following season. It’s tough to just suit up and go out and win 11 or 12 games. And I don’t see it for the 49ers this year. I think they will be in the playoff hunt again, and I can see them getting to 10 W’s. But I don’t see 11.
Take San Francisco 49ers ‘Under’ 10.5 Wins.
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