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Niners Nation Predictions for 2010: II. Our Thoughts on the 49ers

Yesterday, I posted our NN writer predictions for the NFL this season. I was actually surprised to see so much agreement. Some saying about great minds thinking alike or something comes to mind at the moment. Naturally, I'm sure many of you focused mainly on our predictions for the 49ers. And, as I said, those are the ones that, what with us being supposed Niner experts and all, we should be most likely to get right.

Well, to round out the predictions portion of this telecast, this post delves into greater detail about our Niner-specific picks. Specifically, each one of us are going to provide our thoughts on why we picked what we did for the 49ers. First up, here's our fearless leader, Mr. David Fucillo (Fooch), who predicted that the 49ers will win their division with an 11-5 record, and end their season with a road loss at Green Bay in the NFC Championship game:

In making my 49ers win prediction, I took one last look at their schedule and did a mental tally. I see more than enough winnable games on that schedule to justify 11 wins. The toughest calls at this point were wins over the Eagles and Panthers. I say that mostly because those teams have a lot of question marks, and if they can provide some answers they could actually be quite solid in 2010. Kevin Kolb and Matt Moore both have a lot to prove. While they could definitely fail, if they can be decent QBs, both teams could be tough teams to beat. My five losses were vs New Orleans, @ Atlanta, @ Arizona, @ Green Bay, and @ San Diego. Those are all winnable games, but arguably the toughest on the 49ers 2010 schedule.

As far as my postseason prediction, I really like the Packers this year and if the 49ers had to go into Lambeau Field in January, I just don't know if they could win in those elements. I suppose I should have gone all in with the 49ers, but I could live with an 11-5 team that went to the NFC title game. A loss to the Packers would sting, but I don't see how anybody couldn't qualify that as a massive step forward for the team.

After the jump, more journeys into the minds of NN writers...

In the 2-hole, here's the stealth nuggeteer, Ninjames, who out-superfanned the rest of us by at least 3 games with his 14-win prediction for the 49ers:

I took about twenty-to-thirty minutes to make these picks. For some reason, I felt like procrastinating, and looking back, I'm not entirely sure if I agree with everything I said. I think it's all possible, including my 49ers picks. Especially my 49ers picks, to be honest. I think, among those wins are some losable games, to the Falcons, Philly and the like - but when I looked over it week-by-week, I just told myself, "Well, the 49ers should win this game. Next week ... well, the 49ers should win this game." I stand by it for the most part. We have a lot of talent on this team, and it all comes down to execution. I look at other teams in the league, and I don't see as much promising talent at many positions, and I wonder why we're not favored more than we already are.

Moving on, here's wjackalope, who loves "expert" predictions so much, he created this graphic as an homage to the unquestionable clairvoyance of famous NFL draftniks. I wonder if the 7 of us will be featured in an analogous, win-prediction-wronginess graphic come February. To recap, wjackalope's 49ers prediction was a division championship at 10-6, with a season-ending loss in the divisional round of the playoffs:

I see it like this: There are games we should definitely win, games we should most likely lose, and games that are toss ups:

Wins: @ KC, OAK, @ CAR, STL, TB, SEA, @ STL, ARI - That's 8 already.
Losses: NO, @ GB, @ SD - only 3 that I think we definitely will lose.
Toss ups: @ SEA, @ ATL, PHI, DEN (london), @ ARI - 5 that are up in the air.

I think we probably win 2-4 of those toss-ups. We can certainly beat Denver, but the travel is tricky. I think we beat either SEA or ARI on the road, but not both, and both ATL and PHI are dangerous. I say we lose both and end up 10-6. The other one I'm a little bit afraid of is @ CAR since the East Coast games are always hard. Make that a loss and win a third toss-up and you're still at 10-6.

The Niners will be a pretty good team. I think the defense will be pretty darn good, but will give up some big plays in the passing game. The offense will be more dependable than in years past but will still have more 3 and outs than a good team should. Overall we'll be pretty solid and will probably be in almost every game.

Naturally, urnext is next. He was the homerist of all resident homers when making his predictions, picking the Niners to win the NFC West with an 11-5 record, winning on the road to reach the NFC Championship game, beating the Cowboys on the road in said game, and taking home the hardware with a win over the Ravens in Super Bowl XLV:

That's right. I have the 49ers winning it all because I'm a homer and I see the world through 49er tinted glasses. It also helps that coach Sing can turn water into wine and walk on water. I have the 49ers finishing the regular season 11-5 because as long as they go 6-0 in the very weak NFC West, they only have to split their remaining 10 games to finish at 11-5. As for the playoffs, I can't in good conscience have the 49ers lose to the Packers or the Cowboys or even the Falcons, and I definitely can't have them losing in the SB. So I just have them wining the whole thing. It could happen. The Saints went 8-8 in 2008, and then won the SB the following year, so it's not as outrages as it seems. Of course, Alex Smith isn't Drew Breese, but you never know.

Batting 5th is our resident fantasy football fellow, Andrew Davidson, who picked the Niners to win the NFC West with a 10-6 record, but lose to the Vikings at Candlestick in the 1st round of the playoffs. Wait a second! The Niners lose to Brett Favre in the home...again?!?!?! That's one hell of a sadistic sense of humor you've got there, Andrew. Here's what he has to say for himself:

The 49ers will have some obstacles to overcome to win the NFC West, but the talent in 2010 is much better than we've seen in previous years. San Francisco will have the ability to win games it should, and stay close in games it shouldn't. In other words, don't expect many blowout losses in 2010, if any at all. The offense may not blow out opponents either, but you can bank on the defense being absolutely stingy against lesser opponents. The 49ers will win 10 games and capture the NFC West crown, but there may be a few letdowns along the way. I can definitely see the team being upset by Arizona in week 12, and possibly an early season let down in Kansas City. To be honest, it wouldn't shock me to see the team start 1-3, which would have many fans calling for Alex Smith's head. Instead, the 49ers will stick to their guns and ride an easy schedule to the playoffs. Will Mike Singletary have the team ready to win its first home playoff game since 2002? I sure hope so, but with Brett Favre and company coming to town, things don't look too promising.

For the penultimate prediction parsing, we have Drew K, Niners Nation's college football guru (Drew-ru?). For the 2010 49ers, Drew foresees a 10-6, best-in-the-west squad who advances to the elite 8 in their playoff run:

I believe that the 49ers will win the division by a couple games this year. There will be a few disappointments through the course of the year but they won't be one-and-done in the playoffs. They should win one playoff game at least. However, once they start playing some of the teams that take a more attack-by-air approach, they're going to have some trouble keeping up in the secondary. Even though it doesn't look too promising for a Super Bowl this year, it will definitely be a step in the right direction in making it there really soon. Since I'm the guy that covers college football on this site, I will just add that the Niners will most likely be looking for a cornerback or more secondary help at the end of the 1st round in next years draft.

And finally, I've saved the best for last: mine.. OK, maybe I just moved my thoughts to the end because I didn't want people to fall asleep reading my math-talk, and miss everyone else's contributions. So, as far as my actual win prediction goes, I arrived at 10-6 through a mix of stat analysis and subjectivity. Basically, I (and others) have found through statistical analysis that the 3 main things driving win change from year to year are

  1. How much a team under- or over-achieved last season based on Football Outsiders' Estimated Ws stat. Essentially, as the number of wins a team overachieved by last season increases, the number of fewer wins they'll actually have this season also increases. To be more specific, for every win a team overachieves by one season, their actual win total decreases by the same number from that season to the next.
  2. How much a team got better or worse in Pass Offense DVOA. Teams that win more games than they did last year generally do so because they get much better in terms of passing efficiency on offense. Think the Dolphins going from me at QB in 2007 to Chad Pennington (aka one of the most efficient QBs of all time) in 2008, and the 10-win improvement that resulted. The examples are endless: Saints switching from Aaron Brooks to Drew Brees in 2006, Falcons switching from garbage to Matt Ryan in 2008, Ravens switching from garbage to Joe Flacco in 2008, etc. Heck, even the Niners win improvement after switching midseason from JTO to Shaun Hill would qualify. In terms of the specific stats here, they say that every 10% improvement in Pass Offense DVOA from one season to the next is worth 1 more win. Improve by 10% from 2009 to 2010, win 1 more game in 2010; improve by 20%, win 2 more games, etc.
  3. How much a team got better or worse in Pass Defense DVOA. Almost the exact same thing as above applies to the defensive side of the ball as well. For this one, the 2009 Saints are a perfect example. It's no coincidence they improved by 5 wins and won the Super Bowl last year after signing Darren Sharper. It's also not a coincidence that the 49ers started winning more games when they switched to the 3-4 in 2008, and thereby improved their ability to rush the passer (aka disrupt the opponent's pass efficiency). Although, not as robust as on the offensive side, the trend is still clear. Changes in pass defense efficiency track side-by-side with changes in win totals. Specifically, every 12% improvement in Pass Defense DVOA from one season to the next is worth 1 more win. Improve by 12% from 2009 to 2010, win 1 more game in 2010; improve by 24%, win 2 more games, etc.

Although all 3 of these things are 100% objective pieces of information, a problem arises because #2 and #3 above have to be predicted as well. Whereas Estimated Wins Over-Under is just subtracting one number from another, I don't have any quick, objective way to predict how much a team's Pass Offense and Pass Defense DVOAs are going to change from one year to the next. Well, I mean, I could try to predict this stuff objectively, but I just don't have the time to gather all the data you'd need to properly do it. One thing I did figure out objectively was how much regression toward the mean there was in both of these stats, and that served as my starting point for the subjective, "this is what Danny's brain thinks" part of the prediction. (Aside: I'm not going to bore you with the standardized procedure I used to come up with my predictions for Pass Offense DVOA change and Pass Defense DVOA change. If you want to know, you can ask me in the comments section. Instead, I'll focus on what it meant specifically for my 49ers prediction).

OK, so from here it's pretty simple. The 49ers won 8 games last season, but their stats-based Estimated Win total was 7.8, which means they overachieved by 0.2 wins. That means the numbers predict they'll win 0.2 games fewer this season. After accounting for regression toward the mean, my subjective opinion predicts the Niners' Pass Offense DVOA is likely to improve by 9.1% (from -8.2% last year to 0.9% this year), which translates to an improvement of about 0.8 wins; taking their total win projection up to 8.6. My thought here is that the Niners pass offense efficiency will benefit a good deal from a healthy Joe Staley, the switch from Adam Snyder to Anthony Davis, a full year of Michael Crabtree, and an overall efficiency improvement from Alex Smith.

With respect to the pass defense, I predict their efficiency is likely to improve by 1.3% (from -9.7% to -11.0%) after accounting for regression toward the mean, which translates into an improvement of about 0.1 wins; taking the total win prediction up to 8.7. My opinion here is that pretty much everything is the same except for Dashon Goldson having a modest experience-driven improvement and Nate Clements not missing most of the season.

So the total thus far for my Niner prediction is 8.7 wins. Well, the last thing I did was give them an extra 1-win bonus because my gut just tells me there's no way they can win only 9 games when the rest of the NFC west is projected to be so ridiculously bad. I mean, given what I just told you about predicting win change, look at the other 3 teams in that division. Arizona? Just lost their starting QB and starting FS, and replaced them with approximate nothingness. Seattle? Their stats say they played more like a 3-win team than a 5-win team last season, they just traded away their best WR, and 2 of their top 3 tackles, are already injured. And St. Louis? Rookie quarterback plus #1 WR lost for the year doesn't bode well for them either. Of course, with the Rams, there's definitely a floor effect going on here. Looking at the landscape of the NFC West, the Niners had 5 division wins last year against tougher competition, so operating under a 6-division-win assumption, and bumping them up 1 total win doesn't seem like such a wild deviation from sanity. And, regardless, hardcore statistical analysis shows that being my favorite team is worth 1 bonus win. So, all in all, my little win projection exercise resulted in the 49ers winning (exactly!) 9.7 games this year. Incidentally, using the procedure I detailed here, it turns out that Vegas's current even-money projection is for the 49ers to win 9.2 games, so (a) I'm not all that far off from Vegas; and (b) there's value in betting the over (8.5, -203) if betting is your thing.

Now, in terms of the playoffs, there's nothing statistical about my predictions. The regular season win projections put the Niners at home against the Giants in the first round. Their defense's recent trend toward being better at home than on the road makes me think they'll win pretty much any home playoff game. With the Saints beating the Falcons in the other first round game, the 49ers would have to travel to Green Bay for their divisional round game. Although, I'd love to be proven wrong, I just don't think they have the offensive firepower to keep up with the Packers, especially given what I just said about their defense playing marginally worse on the road. Therefore, I think the Niners' excellent adventure in 2010 ends on Lambeau Field in 2011.

So, with the predictions out of the way, it's time to sit back and enjoy the NFL season. I'll be back in February with a recap of our picks and a look at just how (in)accurate those picks were. Until then, this prediction thread is officially going into hibernation.