Numbers Show 49ers Can't Repeat Last Year's Formula
Barnwell—who oddly enough sparked a rush of optimism among the faithful last month by pointing out the 49ers were Super Bowl favorites at some Vegas sports books—argues a study of the mathematics shows San Francisco will take a drastic tumble from last year’s lofty 13-3 record:
I personally think the Niners are going to win nine games or fewer. I see a team whose performance is unsustainable in a number of ways, one that will struggle mightily to re-create all the advantages they had in 2011.
I won’t rehash Barnwell’s argument in full, but it hinges on the premise that the 49ers were extremely lucky last year and history shows those same things will break badly for San Francisco the following season.
As constructed, the Niners will find it extremely difficult to be an elite team year-in and year-out. When everything goes right for a team like San Francisco, you get 2011. When some of those things go wrong, you get 2012.
I agree with all that, but the problem for Barnwell is so does Jim Harbaugh.
Last year Harbaugh walked into a lockout, was handed a roster he didn’t know, a quarterback with zero confidence and no offseason to implement anything, so he created a system to get the most for his money.
He then rode that comically conservative offense, ball-hawking defense and obscenely good special team to the NFC Championship Game, where the Giants exposed what happens when another team gets the lucky breaks.
Then, like any good gambler, Harbaugh realized his hot streak was going cold at the craps table, so he switched to blackjack.
The 49ers spent the entire offseason adding pieces to allow them to create a more explosive offensive system, meaning they won’t need to rely so heavily on ball control and field position.
Barnwell is absolutely right that chances are the 2012 49ers won’t lead the league in turnover differential (plus-28), interception rate (1.1) and defensive starting field position (76.1).
Chances are also good that Alex Smith will be better with an entire offseason, improved confidence and a second year in a system.
Chances are the running game will be more balanced and explosive with LaMichael James, Brandon Jacobs and a second-year Kendall Hunter.
Barnwell and others who have taken a similar position want to say everything the 49ers did well last year isn’t repeatable and everything new they added this offseason won’t work out.
I’ll give you one half of that argument, but you can't say it’s likely there will be a complete confluence of bad luck leading every single aspect of the 49ers game—new and old—to take a nosedive in 2012.
That's like saying you flipped five consecutive heads, now you will flip five consecutive tails. Sure, it makes sense mathematically, but grab your quarter and try to make it happen.
I am on record saying the 49ers won’t finish 13-3. Their schedule is too tough and that record is unrepeatable for any NFL team in today’s parity-driven NFL. But I’m not going to bet on everything falling apart for San Francisco either.
As Barnwell astutely pointed out, neither is Vegas.
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