I’ve got another game we can play as we spin our wheels this offseason.
What will the Niners regular record be next season?
This is not a fruitless exercise. This is another way of examining how the Niners currently stack up against their competition.
Some questions to consider while making your projections: How will the Niners change next season? How will their opponents adjust? How will the Niners adjust to those adjustments?
I’m guessing the Niners will pass a bit more next season than they did last season, simply because Frank Gore is getting older and they’ve invested so much into the passing game this offseason – Randy Moss, Mario Manningham, A.J. Jenkins.
I’m guessing the league will run much less against the Niners defense. Instead, opposing offenses will try to spread them out and attack with quick passes.
I’m guessing teams will make it a priority to bring pressure against the right side of the Niners line to force Vernon Davis to stay at the line of scrimmage and block.
Those are my assumptions. Here are my predictions.
Game 1: @ Green Bay. L. Why: The most lethal spread offense in football will score lots of points and force the Niners to pass. LOLBClay Matthews will bring tons of pressure and force Vernon Davis to help pass protect, and the Niners will get outscored.
Game 2: vs. Detroit. W. Why: A good spread offense, but the Niners proved last season they can handle the Lions skill players (Calvin Johnson, Brandon Pettigrew, Nate Burleson, Jahvid Best), and Aldon Smith proved he can handle LT Jeff Backus – 1 sack, 2 QB hits.
Game 3: @ Minnesota. W. Why: Second-year quarterback Christian Ponder isn’t good enough to beat the 49ers.
Game 4: @ New York Jets. W. Why: Neither Mark Sanchez nor Tim Tebow is good enough to beat the Niners, either.
Game 5: vs. Buffalo. L. Why: Mario Williams. It’s no secret that right tackle Anthony Davis has struggled against the league’s best pass rushers, and Mario Williams is the league’s best pass rusher, and he’ll be lining up against Davis, making life tough for Alex Smith and the offense. On the other side of the ball, the Bills have are committed to the spread offense, and they’ll use the Packers blueprint to sqeak out enough points to win this game.
Game 6: vs. New York Giants. L. Why: Anthony Davis has to face Justin Tuck in this one. In the NFC Championship Game, Tuck recorded 1.5 sacks, two QB hits and one tackle for a loss. He dominated the matchup. If Frank Gore were a few years younger, the Niners could avoid Tuck by simply running the ball, but Gore’s only useful for 10-15 carries at this point in his career, so the Niners are going to have to pass to beat the Giants, and the Giants don’t give QBs much time to pass.
Game 7: vs. Seattle. W. Why: The Niners are too good to lose three straight home games. Seattle’s a young team with a new quarterback – Matt Flynn. They’ll keep the game close, but they won’t beat the Niners at Candlestick next season.
Game 8: @ Arizona. W. Why: I expect Aldon Smith to manhandle Cardinals left tackle Levi Brown in this game. Larry Fitzgerald will get open, but if the Niners pass rush can dominate the Cardinals offensive line the way they should, the Niners will win.
Game 9: vs. St. Louis. W. Why: St. Louis a young team. They’re not ready to challenge the Niners at Candlestick.
Game 10: vs. Chicago. W. Why: The Bears’ offense is too conventional to hurt the Niners defense. Everything starts with the running back, Matt Forte, and the Niners can shut him down because they can shut down any running back. On top of that, the Bears offensive line is no good. Jay Cutler will get hit and turn over the ball multiple times.
Game 11: @ New Orleans. W. Why: Too much disarray for the Saints this offseason. Even in the Super Dome, they won’t be cohesive enough to beat the Niners.
Game 12: @ St. Louis. W. Why: The Rams young spread offense should click at this point in the season behind QB Sam Bradford, WR Danny Amendola, WR Brian Quick, WR Chris Givens and RB Isaiah Pead. Of course, they still have Stephen Jackson, the old, tough running back, but he’s a bad matchup against the Niners defense. LDE Chris Long is a bad matchup for the Niners offensive line. With all that going in the Rams favor, they still can’t quite beat the Niners in this one, but they come close.
Game 13: vs. Miami. W. Why: The Dolphins will struggle to move the ball and score points. Their offense is not equipped to hurt the Niners defense.
Game 14: @ New England. L. Why: A great spread offense that can force the Niners into tough matchups, like Perrish Cox against Brandon Lloyd in the slot. The Patriots will outscore the Niners in Foxboro.
Game 15: @ Seattle. L. Why: It’s tough to beat the Seahawks in Seattle two seasons in a row. It’s so tough the Niners have never done it. They barely beat them in Seattle last season – Michael Crabtree had to make that amazing catch and Larry Grant had to strip Tarvares Jackson at the end to seal the victory. The Seahawks will be better next season, and by Week 16 their offense should be pretty good behind Flynn. On defense, rookie LDE Bruce Irvin could force Vernon Davis to block. The Seahawks will win the game by a point or two.
Game 16: vs. Arizona. W. Why: The Niners will not lose three games in a row to end the season. They’ll handle the inferior Cardinals at Candlestick.
Final Record: 11-5