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Football Outsiders 2011 Almanac And The San Francisco 49ers

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Regular season football is just around the corner and that means we're getting more and more previews of the upcoming season. One of the always controversial previews comes courtesy of Football Outsiders as the 2011 Football Outsiders Almanac preview is available for purchase.

We'll have a Q&A with former NN front page All Star Danny Tuccitto at some point, but in the meantime I thought we could take a look at their intriguing look at the NFC West from a prediction standpoint. When FO puts together their "predictions" they provide a mean projection of wins and then run down a percentage chance to reach certain win totals ranging from 0-3 to 11+.

As it currently stands, here is the 2011 mean projection for the entire NFC West. As you can see, Football Outsiders is projecting another historically bad division performance:

1. San Francisco 49ers: 7.5 wins
2. Arizona Cardinals: 6.4 wins
3. St. Louis Rams: 5.5 wins
4. Seattle Seahawks: 5.4 wins

One reason for the Rams decline in victories as I understand it is the idea that a team that makes a huge leap forward from one year to the next (2009 to 2010 Rams) is bound to run into a bit of a brick wall the year after (see 2005-2006-2007 49ers).

We'll go into some more details after the jump and we'll have other posts about the 49ers projections for 2011, but for all the juicy details, you can purchase the 2011 Football Outsiders Almanac for $12 in PDF format or $21.95 in book form. If you want the PDF version, don't click on the top link for 2011 because that takes you to purchasing the book. You'll want to scroll down and click add to cart for the PDF version.

Here is the 49ers breakdown across the win totals:

On the Clock (0-3): 1%
Loserville (4-6): 28%
Mediocrity (7-8): 41%
Playoff Contender (9-10): 25%
Super Bowl Contender (11+): 5%
Projected Average Opponent: -3.7% (32nd)

For those wondering, that projected average opponent number is basically projecting the 49ers to have the easiest schedule in the league. For comparison's sake, Arizona is projected at No. 28, St. Louis at No. 20, and Seattle at No. 18.

The 49ers chapter in Football Outsiders ended up focusing primarily on Alex Smith. It addressed the offensive line and the defense, but as we often see without most any previews of the 49ers it always seems to begin and end with the much maligned Smith. FO writer Vince Verhei handled the 49ers chapter and seemed to mix in some positives about Smith:

Through Week 5, Smith had thrown six touchdowns and nine interceptions, and ranked 30th out of 39 qualifying quarterbacks with a DVOA of -17.6%. From Week 6 onward, he threw eight touchdowns with only one interception, and his DVOA of 10.1% ranked 19th out of 44. He was consistent, too, with a DVOA of 12.4% or higher in all but one of his games over the second half of the season.

I hadn't really fully thought through the Mike Singletary quarterback changes from 2010, but it really was all over the place. We saw Alex Smith, then David Carr (two weeks removed from the "We Want Carr!" chant), then Troy Smith, then Alex Smith, then Troy Smith, then Alex Smith to wrap it up. Far and away from favorite quotation from the 49ers FOA chapter is this one:

According to the Greek historian Plutarch of Chaeronea, when Alexander the Great arrived at Troy in 334 B.C., he mourned his fallen ancestors by running naked around their graves. We have no evidence that Mike Singletary used nude footraces through cemeteries to determine his starting quarterbacks, but it couldn't have been any less logical than what actually unfolded.

I don't know whether Alex Smith will ever develop into a strong quarterback. I know plenty of people think he never will, and given how the last seven years have unfolded they are entitled to take that opinion. I remain forever the naive optimist that will surely get slapped back into reality over the next couple months.

It is worth noting that, as Vince Verhei says in the 49ers chapter, Jim Harbaugh has taken a stand in favor of the young QB unlike anything Mike Singletary ever did. That's not to say it's a smart stand, but having this kind of internal support could be a key step for Smith.

And if he flames out anyway? Well, there's always Colin Kaepernick.....