EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the 27th of 32 preseason previews in 32 days leading up to the NFL season opener Thursday, Sept 5.
SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS
Win total last 5 years: 45
LVH over/under wins (11½)
First head coach Jim Harbaugh energized the 49ers and then second year quarterback Colin Kaepernick took them to the NFC championship.
In two years, Harbaugh won almost as many games (24) as the Niners totaled the previous three seasons (25). With that kind of success not many teams would change QBs in midseason, but that’s exactly what Harbaugh did.
And the gamble worked. Not that Alex Smith was bad, in fact he put up similar numbers across the board to Kaepernick with one huge difference. Under Smith, the Niners ran an ultra-conservative attack. With Kaepernick they became flamboyant.
So Smith winds up this season in Kansas City and it’s Colin’s team for what could be the rest of this decade. The arrival of Kaepernick coincided with wide receiver Michael Crabtree having a breakout season with 85 catches.
Steady RB Frank Gore rushed for over 1,200 yards and defensively the Niners feature two studs in linebackers Patrick Willis and Aldon Smith.
The one weakness was placekicking and that was solved in the offseason with the acquisition of Pro Bowl kicker Chad Dawson from Cleveland to replace the inconsistent David Akers.
Two years ago the Niners barely missed making the Super Bowl, Last year they nearly won the Super Bowl. This season many expect them to be world champions.
Interestingly their toughest obstacle may well be in their own division. And the showdown first comes early in Week 2 at Seattle. It was last year in the same visiting stadium that the Niners were crushed 42-13 in the next to last game of the regular season. The rematch comes Dec. 8 at San Francisco and many believe there could be a third encounter in the NFC title game.
The over/under win total for the Niners is 11.5. Only Denver matches that, with Seattle and New England close behind at 11. That’s how Vegas thinks now. We’ll see.
Athlon Sports rated San Francisco’s draft a B. Top pick was safety Eric Reid from LSU. The sleeper selection was South Carolina RB Marcus Lattimore, who is recovering from his second straight serious knee injury. If Lattimore is able to come back at some later time, this could be one of the great picks in recent years.
As for the present, the Niners have a tough first five games. Besides Seattle there’s the opener with Green Bay, then Indianapolis, a Thursday game at nemesis St. Louis, then Houston.
The Niners will be favored in 4 of the 5 and if they come away 4-1 should be well on their way to a 12-win season at least.
Wednesday: Seattle Seahawks
Mark Mayer has over 35 years covering sports events and is the sports editor at GT. Reach him at [email protected].