The San Francisco 49ers pulled off a trade with the New England Patriots for quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo right after their 33-10 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 8. That move ended up drastically changing the outlook for this franchise.
By the time Garoppolo was ready to play (Week 13), San Francisco was sitting at 1-10 (started out 0-9). It looked like the first year under head coach Kyle Shanahan and GM John Lynch was going to be a major disappointment.
Then the 49ers wound up going a perfect 5-0 in Garoppolo’s starts, which included three straight wins over playoff teams (Titans, Jaguars, Rams). San Francisco would end up finishing the season at 6-10, nearly matching their 7 wins over the previous two years.
The outstanding play of Garoppolo has created a serious buzz around this year’s 49ers team, which many feel is a legit sleeper in a loaded NFC. San Francisco definitely believes they have struck gold with Garoppolo, as they gave him a 5-year deal for $137.5 million. Which at the time was the richest contract in NFL history.
It’s hard to fault the 49ers for falling in love with their new signal caller. Over the first 12 weeks of last season, San Francisco was averaging a miserable 17.0 ppg. In the 5 games with Garoppolo they were one of the highest scoring teams in the NFL at 28.8 ppg.
The most impressive thing with Garoppolo is how well he played given the limited supporting cast he had to work with. The running game was one of the worst in the NFL at just 103.9 ypg (21st) and the leading receivers were wide out Marquise Goodwin and rookie tight end George Kittle.
While the supporting cast appears to be stronger going into 2018, you have to wonder why the 49ers were a little more active in adding some proven talent for Garoppolo to work with.
The biggest addition was running back Jerick McKinnon from the Minnesota Vikings, who will be the starter after Carlos Hyde signed with the Browns in free agency. McKinnon was productive last year with the Vikings, but his numbers were very similar to what Hyde had. San Francisco really need Matt Breida or Joe Williams to emerge and play a big role as the backup.
One wideout that was missing when Garoppolo was starting was veteran Pierre Garcon, but a neck fracture limited him to just the first 8 games. Garcon is just two years removed from a 1,000-yard season with the Redskins and should quickly emerge as the top target in the passing game alongside Goodwin and Kittle. They are also hoping that 2nd round pick Dante Pettis out of Washington will contribute right away.
Improvements were made on the offensive line. The 49ers gave a big contract to center Weston Richburg and used their 1st round pick (No. 9 overall) on Notre Dame’s highly praised tackle Mike McGlinchey. They still have one of the best left tackles in Joe Staley, so McGlinchey will start out at right tackle. They also signed a former first round pick in Jonathan Cooper to compete with Laken Tomlinson and Joshua Garrett for the two guard spots.
While the offense certainly looks to be headed in the right direction, the defense will also have to be better if the 49ers are going to compete for a playoff spot. Last year San Francisco ranked 22nd against both the run (116.3 ypg) and pass (235.2 ypg). They were 25th in scoring defense (23.9 ppg) and T-26th in sacks (30).
The unit could have to start the season without one of its best players, as linebacker Reuben Foster is facing a potential suspension by the league. That’s a big loss given what San Francisco has behind him. They do get back middle linebacker Malcolm Smith after he missed all of last year with an injury. They also used a 3rd round pick on BYU’s Fred Warner, who could push Harold Eli for a starting spot.
The strength of the defense is the front four, where the 49ers have three former 1st round picks in Arik Armstead, DeForest Buckner and Solomon Thomas. Buckner has already emerged into one of the best at his position and the hope is that Thomas will make a similar jump in his second season.
The secondary got a big boost in free agency when Richard Sherman decided he wanted to stay in the same division after being cut by the Seahawks. That’s the only household name in the defensive backfield, but the 49ers are high on the rest of the unit. Ahkello Witherspoon impressed at corner as a rookie and there’s depth behind him with Jimmie Ward. At safety the 49ers like what they have seen from Jaquiski Tartt and Adrian Colbert.
2018 49ers Schedule & Projected Odds
Below you will find the early odds released by Vegas for Weeks 1-16, as well as my projected number for Week 17. Using the lines we are able to give a game-by-game win probability, which we used to come up an expected win total.
|6||at Packers MNF||+4||0.34|
|13||at Seahawks SNF||+1||0.49|
Projected Wins: 8.59
Over/Under Wins Prediction: UNDER 8.5
I actually think there’s some decent value on the 49ers to finish under their win total of 8.5. I completely get why everyone is high on this team after how good they looked with Garoppolo at quarterback, but I just thing they are being over-hyped.
For me, I just wasn’t taken in by their 5-game winning streak to end the season. Two of the wins came against the Bears and Texans (without Deshaun Watson). They needed a last second score to be the Titans at home and won a meaningly game against the Rams in Week 17. The win that got a lot of people’s attention was the 44-33 win over the Jaguars. However, I think that was more of Jacksonville underestimating this team and suffering a big letdown after clinching a playoff spot for the first time in a decade the week before.
I want to make it clear that I’m not knocking Garoppolo. I think the 49ers got themselves a franchise signal caller. My concern is with the talent they have around him on both sides of the football. I just don’t see a playoff team and that’s really what you have to be thinking if you are taking this team to go over 8.5 wins.
It’s also worth noting that the 49ers open the season with 4 of their first 6 and 5 of their first 8 games on the road. The first 4 away from home are agains the likes of the Vikings, Chiefs, Chargers and Packers. Just going 2-4 in their first 6 is going to tall task and that really puts them behind the 8-ball in finishing 9-7 or better.
Odds to Win the Super Bowl: +2000
I’ll admit that I was a caught by surprise with how much respect Vegas is giving the 49ers in terms of winning the Super Bowl. Prior to Week 1 of the 2017 season, San Francisco was 300 to 1 (+30000) to win it all. Here we are in the middle of June and they are at +2000 (20 to 1). Only 8 other teams have better odds.
The Falcons, who I feel are a much better team from top to bottom have the same odds at +2000. They are also ahead of the likes of the Jaguars (+2200), Chargers (+2200), Chiefs (+3000) and Cowboys (+3300).
I’m not saying there’s no chance of the 49ers winning the Super Bowl, but this isn’t the kind of value you want on a team that’s realistically a long-shot just to make the playoffs.
Odds to Win the NFC: +1200
I feel the same way about the 49ers odds to win the NFC and just play in the Super Bowl. Could it happen? Yes, but there’s simply not enough value at +1200 to take that kind of gamble on team that could just as easily fail to post a winning record.
Odds to Win the NFC West: +275
As you would expect, the Rams are the overwhelming favorites to win the division at -130. San Francisco has the next best odds at +275, with the Seahawks at +400 and the Cardinals way back at +1200. While the 49ers might be the second best team in the NFC West, I don’t think they are going to surpass Los Angeles for the top spot.