Yesterday we got everybody excited about the crazy potential of the 2009 San Francisco 49ers and what the best case scenario might result in. 11-5 isn't a sexy record, but given where the 49ers have been, I bet any 49er fan would take that in a heartbeat. Of course, just as we had a post for the optimists on the site, so we bounce back with a slam dunk of a potentially ugly reality for the pessimists.
Again, as a reminder, this is a look at a realistic worst case scenario. As with last year, I have not factored injuries into the equation. While a worst case scenario would in fact involve some injuries, injuries are simply too hard to predict. Wear and tear is allowed in this prediction, but not something that knocks a player out for weeks on end, or the entire season. And, I can guarantee you I won't predict an 0-16 record given some of the potential slop on the schedule. As with this morning, feel free to post your own worst case scenario, or critique mine for being too harsh or too easy.
Worst Case Scenario
The QB situation simply does not resolve itself. Shaun Hill wins the job in training camp, but Hill's production in limited opportunities the last two years really does not actually project out to a full season. I actually don't think in a worst case scenario he's exactly god-awful. Rather, defenses are able to game-plan around his limitations and rather than him making stupid mistakes, his mistakes are simply a result of a lack of the necessary talent. Hill finds himself benched before the halfway point of the season and Alex Smith steps back into the saddle...and proceeds to fall on his face. Maybe he has some of the physical tools, but he's just not able to put it all together like an NFL quarterback can do. Of course, the team is not going to throw Nate Davis too the wolves (we hope), so the team struggles behind the Hill/Smith duo, with the two QBs getting second and third chances in the starting lineup.
The rest of the offense is never really able to click behind the less than creative offensive gameplan of Jimmy Raye. Frank Gore and the running game get the chance to control the game, but Gore continues to show signs of wear and tear. He has managed to stay away from catostrophic injuries, but the nicks and bumps and bruises keep him at less than 100% most of the season. In this worst case, he finishes in the 900 yard rushing range, with another 200 or so receiving yards. Glen Coffee gets more and more carries, but shows why he was no better than a third round pick. Behind a struggling offensive line, the running game is not able to develop as hoped and teams can spend less time keying on Frank Gore and more time keying on the 49ers receivers.
Of course, in this worst case scenario, the receivers aren't a huge threat. Isaac Bruce falls off the cliff (figuratively) and is unceremoniously benched for the youth movement. Unfortunately, the youths regress. I think Josh Morgan does show some improvement in year 2, but it's more like a 10-20 catch improvement, and not the big leap many fans are hoping for. Michael Crabtree does get on the playing field and stays healthy, but he really struggles in the move to a more conservative offense. On the quick, short pass routes he gets blasted by bigger, more physical corners, and on the deep routes his speed is not enough for NFL-elite corners. And Vernon Davis? Well, he's still a solid blocker and that's about it.
All of this comes about due to some shoddy work by the offensive line. Marvel Smith's back gives out again and Adam Snyder/Barry Sims clearly are not the answer. Chilo Rachal continues starting but isn't quite able to step up as hoped. I actually think that even in the worst case scenario Eric Heitmann will be perfectly solid for the 49ers. He's 29 and playing as well as can be expected. I'm not concerned about the center position. Other than Heitmann, it's pretty simple figuring out what the worst case scenario is for the 49ers offensive line.
After the jump, we assess the defense and the coaching staff in this worst case scenario, and project out a worst-case record...
Just when you thought it couldn't get any worse, oh it continues...
There are actually a lot of easier predictions to make in this scenario. Manny Lawson will get some sacks just because of the increased opportunities. However, he had 3 this past year, so I'm guessing he shows he's not much more of a pass rusher and finishes with 4 or 5 in a worst case scenario. I have the increased sack total because of the increase in opportunities he'll see outside of the big sub. On the other side, I really don't think Parys Haralson completely drops off in a worst case scenario. Rather, he sees his sack total come down to 6 or 7.
Patrick Willis continues to excel but teams are able to game plan even further around him, helping to take him more out of the picture. This is furthered by Takeo Spikes hitting the veteran wall. I'm thinking a Derek Smith type of wall, only with more trash talk.
As for the secondary, Nate Clements is not able to rebound from last season and struggles even as the #1 guy. On the other side, Bly proves to be a waste of a one-year deal and Tarell Brown just can't unseat him for an every down role. And Shawntae Spencer? I'm tempted to say he gets injured, even in spite of what I mentioned above. However, I'll just say he contributes but clearly doesn't have it in him to be more than a 3rd or 4th corner at best.
Even if Dashon Goldson stays healthy in the worst case, I could see him struggling to make plays on a consistent basis in the regular season. I could see a guy who gets a sack and an interception in one game, but then gets burned for a touchdown and a lon run in another game. His worst case, in my opinion, is inconsistency more than anything. Again, that's assuming he stays healthy. I'm not sure if that worst case leads to his being benched in favor of Mark Roman, who continues to not intercept the ball.
As for Michael Lewis, he's another guy who, even in the worst of times, continues to take care of his business. He might not be a flashy, superstar playmaker, but he takes care of business. Even if the team struggles, I think he'll be fine.
Worst Case Record: 3-13. First off, if some of what Football Outsiders said comes true (specifically about the Rams), it's entirely possible this drops to 2-14. If the 49ers struggle this season, the schedule could prove to be very unforgiving. The wins in this scenario include 1 over Seattle, 1 over St. Louis and 1 over Detroit. That 1 over Seattle could be interchangeable with 1 over Arizona. So consider the worst case a range from 2-14 to 4-12.
I would say Detroit is a guaranteed win, but it's not such a simple proposition. While they did go 0-16 last season, they made enough significant changes that I think they won't be a pushover this season. Of course, if Stafford struggles that might not be the case. Either way, I've got it as a win, but it proves tougher than expected.
Aside from a poor start, the backbreaker would be the 7 games following the bye week. In reality I don't see it happening, but 0-7 is not out of the realm of possibility. If Jacksonville rebounds this season, the AFC South is absolutely stacked in 2009, meaning a particularly bad inter-conference run.
So, to the pessimists AND optimists, stick that in your pipe and smoke it. My personal best case to worst case scenarios feature a 9-game swing. Was I too negative for a worst case? Is it possible I was actually too positive? If you haven't hung yourself in misery yet, feel free to let me know.