Sorry to be a “Debbie Downer,” fellow 49ers fans, but the more I read “analyses” and “predictions” of us having an 11-plus win season makes me wonder if everyone has suddenly contracted amnesia. Have we forgotten just how bad we looked last season when playing play-off caliber teams? How about how anemic our offense looked at times? Are one draft and another season with Smith in Raye’s offense going to catapult the 49ers to the realm of the NFL elite? Doubt it.
Of course, a disclaimer: I think it’s ridiculous to guess, with any type of accuracy, how a team will play out a 16-game season. I also find it completely ridiculous how people want to grade drafts. I get it —there isn’t going to be any significant football-type activities for a while, so the media has to fill the air waves with something. Still, you can’t accurately “grade” a draft class until 3-4 years after the fact.
With that said, I am going focus on the first half of the season because, one: our bye week is at week nine, perfectly dividing the season into two equal halves. Two: the first half of our schedule is much harder than the last half, and three: if we don’t play well enough, the season could very well be over by the time we get to the bye week.
Week 1: @ Seattle
Do I think that the 49ers are a better team than the Seahawks? Yes—but not so much better that I can go ahead and pencil this one in as a “W.” It’s a season-opener, a division game and it’s on the road; these are not the indicators of an easy game. Not to mention the fact that the last time we played in Seattle, we lost.
Week 2: vs. New Orleans
I’m going to go out on a limb and say that we don’t win this game.
Week 3: @ Kansas City
Kansas City is a bad team, but whenever they did play well last year, it was at home. The 49ers should win this game, but our road record last year was 2-6, with both of those road-wins coming against division opponents. The story was simple last year: we couldn’t win games outside our division and we couldn’t win on the road.
So while some 49ers fans chuckle to themselves, saying, “The Chiefs? What a joke- that’s a win.” I guarantee Chiefs fans are looking at their scheduling saying, “The 49ers at home—hmm…I think we have a good chance to win that one.”
Week 4: @ Atlanta
Yes, the 49ers want “revenge” for what happened last year, but the NFL is full of revenge stories that never pan out. The Falcons are a good team and the chances that Matt Ryan will rise above his sophomore slump are far greater than Alex Smith rising above his five-year one.
On top of that, it’s at the Georgia Dome, a really tough place to play. I’m not calling another 45-10 stomping, but let’s be realistic; we’re probably not coming away from Atlanta with a “W.”
Week 5: vs. Philadelphia
Yeah, I get it: what if Kevin Kolb is a dud, right? But what if he isn’t? The Eagles had enough confidence in him to get rid of McNabb and give him an extension—this is more confidence than the 49ers have in Smith, who is on the last year of his contract with no extension in sight.
Besides, the Eagles are more than just McNabb; they have a proven defense and an explosive offense, complete with a good O-line (when we played the Eagles last year, we accumulated a whopping zero sacks).
The advantage to this one is that we are at home.
Week 6: vs. Oakland
I think that Jason Campbell makes the Raiders instantly better. With that, the only time they looked competitive last year was when they were playing at home. Sometimes, they just looked downright horrible. Let’s hope that we can win this one.
Week 7: @ Carolina
This is just a tough one to gauge. Who will be staring, Clausen or Moore? Moore looked good last year but there is no guarantee that his play will carry over. If there is a rookie under center I think we have a better chance, but again, this is a road game and the Panthers were 8-8 last year, just like us. I think we can win this one, but who knows?
Week 8: “vs.” Denver
It’s a long trip for both teams and Denver lost its playmaker, Marshall. That being said, it’s just too hard to gauge on how good they will be next year. Heck, it’s hard to gauge on how good we’ll be next year. I put this in the same category as the Carolina game; I can see this game going either way. But between Carolina and Denver, I think we should come away with at least one win.
Week 9: Bye Week
We’ve got some tough opponents mixed in with some winnable games in the first half of the season. If we can head into the bye week with a 4-4 record, I think we’ll be good to go. The second half of the season is considerably easier with two games against the Rams and one against Tampa Bay at home.
A 4-4 record into the bye means we’re still in the hunt half way into the season. It sounds mediocre but for a team like ours, who hasn’t had a winning season since 2002, it’s a huge step. Consider that eight games into the season in 2008 and 2009, we were 2-6 and 3-5 respectively.
The biggest thing we have to avoid in the first half of the season is the season-ending three or four game losing streak.
Any further predictions later into the season have too many X-factors; it’s like trying to mock the second round of the draft. This all sound pessimistic, but I assure you that I am looking forward to the season and that I do think we are capable of pulling out a nine to 10 win season and win the division.
So the next time you see a prediction with the 49ers going 11-5 or 12-5…stop and think. It takes an elite-type team to go 11-5 in the NFL, even in a weak division. I am optimistic about this season and I like the draft we had, beefing up our O-line.
But an 11-5 season? I’m not so sure. A 9-7 season and a division win is what I honestly think is going to happen. Again, sorry to be the one “downer” in the crowd, but that’s just how I see it.