I was all set to take a look at Scott Linehan this morning when Barrows jumped on it. Such is life. I'll come up with my own alternative take on Linehan in the coming days (think DVOA among other things. In the meantime, now seems as good a time as any to make the first, ridiculously early predictions of the 49ers 2009 slate of opponents. We have no clue when the games will take place, but that won't stop us from throwing out predictions. In the front page poll, so far 80% of people think the 49ers will win at least 9 games in 2009. I like the optimism!
vs. Atlanta Falcons: WIN - The Falcons were merely average on the road this season, going 4-5, including the playoffs. I think the 49ers can win this even if Matt Ryan does NOT have a sophomore slump. Nate Clements vs. Roddy White looks to be a phenomenal matchup and while Michael Turner had a great season, the 49ers have done well at times in the past against solid running backs. This will be a very tough won, but it is winnable.
vs. Detroit Lions: WIN - I don't care what they do in the offseason, I'll continue to notch this up as a win until further notice. The Lions have a lot of work to do this offseason throughout the organization and I honestly have no idea when they'll become a decent football team. I'd say return to relevance, but when you go 0-16 you're relevantly awful.
vs. Chicago Bears: WIN: I wonder if this will send GeoMak into shock, although maybe he's only a fan of the old teams. The Bears did have a shot at the division title heading into Week 17, but I just can't respect a team with Kyle Orton and Rex Grossman at quarterback. They rock the great defense, but part of their success in 2009 might be predicated on whether Devin Hester can develop into a better receiver (or maybe if they stick him back at kick returner full time).
vs. Jacksonville Jaguars: LOSS - This is based on a bounce back season by the Jaguars. They've got an impressive array of talent and yet it all collapsed this season, big time. I think the Jaguars are fixing to bounce back in 2009. I see no home loss being a blowout this season meaning they're all quite winnable. I've got this team going 6-2 at home, but that could honestly range anywhere from 8-0 to 4-4 and I would not be surprised
vs. Tennessee Titans: LOSS - The Titans looked really impressive at times season and really average at times this season. The two questions heading into 2009 is who will be quarterbacking team and whether Chris Johnson will have a sophomore slump. The good thing for them at running back though is they've got a solid LenDale White to make up for a Johnson slump. However, QB is another question. Collins is getting a bit long in the tooth and Vince Young remains a little coo-coo for coco puffs. RIght now I have this as a loss, but depending on how the offseason moves, I'm tempted to swing this into the win column. Call me VY crazy.
@ Minnesota Vikings: WIN - The last time the 49ers faced the Vikings (2007), they shut down Adrian Peterson (3 yards on 14 carries), but were roughed up by Chester Taylor. The defense is improved since then and I think they can contain the running back duo in 2009. The Vikings continue to have huge questions at the quarterback position, which will hold them back until further notice.
@ Green Bay Packers: WIN - After a decent enough start, the Packers really struggled. Aaron Rodgers had a solid first year starting, but the team as a whole just could not take care of business. They had a 1,000 yard rusher, but Ryan Grant only averaged 3.9 a carry in doing so. On defense, they were quite solid against the pass, but horrible against the run. By DVOA's terms, they finished 16th in team efficiency, but finished with the 24th best record. I think this is a big time wildcard game. Initially I was hoping for a warm weather game, but given the 49ers rushing tendency going forward, maybe the 49ers will have the advantage on the frozen tundra?
@ Indianapolis Colts: LOSS - Even in what was supposed to be a down year, the Colts put together a solid 12-4 season. If they can stay healthy in the offseason and get Joseph Addai back to his 2007 form (just murder in 2008 on fantasy teams), they're a dangerous team. I think this is the closest there is to a guaranteed loss, although I think the 49ers can still hang with the Colts.
@ Houston Texans: WIN - This might actually have a lot to do with scheduling. The last two season, the Texans have finished 5-1 and 3-1 while finishing the season as a whole at 8-8. I'm thinking we want to face this team in the first couple months. They've got a lot of talent, but consider me one person who thinks Steve Slaton is the rookie most likely to hit the rookie wall in 2009.
@ Philadelphia Eagles: LOSS - The Eagles had the 49ers number during the Nolan era. It'd be nice to see Mike Singletary change that but I'm not sure it will happen on the road. Of course, given the Jekkyl and Hyde nature of the Eagles anything is possible. With the firing of Mike Nolan, Andy Reid can possibly lay claim to worst in-game manager in the NFL. Thast certainly leaves the door open for an upset.
St. Louis Rams: WIN/LOSS - I just split the divisional games down the middle. We could very well sweep the Rams, and be swept by another team. The Rams face an important offseason in getting back to respectability. The players want Jim Haslett back, but I really don't think that's the best idea.
Arizona Cardinals: WIN/LOSS - The 49ers need to at least split with the Cardinals if they're going to take that step back to respectability and winning the division. The Cardinals were solid at times and awful at times, although the awful probably relates to being locked into playoff position. However, I think the Cardinals are primed to be knocked off their perch (pun only partially intended). A split at the very least is a must.
Seattle Seahawks: WIN/LOSS - I honestly have no idea what to expect from the Seahawks in 2009. Yes they'll have Matt Hasselbeck returning, but he turns 34 early in the season. Their running game was solid, but not spectacular. They went through more receivers than I thought was possible and their defense did nothing for anybody. And yet they bring their A game when they face the 49ers, which means anything is possible.
And just like, I've got a final prediction of 9-7. I'm probably being a bit optimistic, but I think the wins I have listed are entirely possible. Of course, as the slate of opponents for 2008 showed, anything is possible (see Dolphins, Miami and Jets, NY). One trade can completely change a team. Given that, I'll be back with another round of schedule predictions after free agency and just before the draft. Are there any games I've predicted where you think I'm 100% wrong?