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2017 NFL power rankings: Why the 49ers might only be looking at three or four wins

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The 49ers final five games could tell us plenty about momentum for 2016.

The San Francisco 49ers are kicking off OTAs on Monday, which means we will slowly start to get an idea about how the depth chart might look. We will not get final resolution, and some of the lineups we hear reported will just be ways for the coaching staff to mix and match players.

That being said, OTAs and minicamp will represent an important step in the 49ers rebuilding process. The team has been working in the classroom with the new playbook, and slowly been implementing things on an individual level. OTAs represent the first chance for full offense vs. defense drills, which means further implementation.

We won’t know where things stand three weeks from now, but it won’t stop the world from getting more power rankings! MMQB’s Peter King is the latest, offering up NFL power rankings following the draft and the bulk of free agency. He broke up his rankings into two parts, ranking No. 17-32 on Monday, and No. 1-16 on Tuesday.

No surprise, the 49ers are ranked near the bottom. King has the 49ers at No. 30, ahead of the Cleveland Browns (31) and New York Jets (32). King ranked the 49ers this low primarily because of their schedule. They don’t have the toughest schedule in terms of how hard their opponents are, but they do have one of the toughest schedules in terms of how it is set up.

Overall, the schedule is absurdly difficult for a team under construction—nine of 10 foes before the bye (Week 2: Rams) are legitimate playoff contenders. But let’s take a road trip in Weeks 4 through 6: at Arizona, at Indianapolis, at Washington. At Carson Palmer, Andrew Luck, Kirk Cousins. Pretty tough.

The 49ers could have a much easier close to the schedule, but even that is not guaranteed. Following their Week 11 bye, the 49ers have a home game against the Seattle Seahawks. That is followed by this stretch:

@ Chicago
@ Houston
vs. Tennessee
vs. Jacksonville
@ Los Angeles

If things don’t change too drastically, there are potentially three wins in that five-game stretch. However, if the team stumbles through a rough stretch of ten games before the bye, how they handle that back half could tell us a lot about the state of the rebuilding process. A 3-13 season doesn’t mean things are lost with this process, but if they can finish on a strong note, there would be a nice bit of momentum heading into 2018.

King talked about the 49ers showing a willingness to be patient in what could be a trying year. He sees it as a year for growth not contention.

If Vegas set the odds right now, it’s likely the only games the Niners may be favored are Week 3 at home with the Rams, and Week 16 at home with Jacksonville. That’s only part of the reason why this looks like a three- or four-win season … and only that good because Kyle Shanahan is good at game-planning, and because Brian Hoyer’s not going to be hopeless at quarterback. The 49ers are very clear about what this season is, and have been since Shanahan and Lynch got twin six-year contracts (unprecedentedly long deals for two first-timers) from CEO Jed York to rebuild a woebegone franchise. So this year will be about seeing that three young and gifted defensive linemen (DeForest Buckner, Arik Armstead, Solomon Thomas) can play in tandem, that Foster can be the defensive centerpiece, and that a rookie offensive weapon, fourth-round running back Joe Williams, can be one-half of a rushing tandem with Carlos Hyde. It’s a year of growth, not one of contention.