Former NFL executive Michael Lombardi made an appearance on Rich Eisen’s radio show, and he had some interesting comments about the San Francisco 49ers. Eisen and Lombardi were talking about potential sleepers around the NFL, and Eisen was struggling on the NFC side. He listed some names, and said he felt like he was trying to talk his way into a sleeper team. At one point, he said, “So I’m not gonna go San Francisco ...”
At that point, Lombardi weighed in on the 49ers. He said, gun to his head, the 49ers would be his pick as an NFC sleeper. He talked about the work Shanahan did in Atlanta, and how great a coach he is.
“I think what Kyle Shanahan did in Atlanta is flat out remarkable. I mean, if you look at Matt Ryan’s numbers from his career to what he did last year, if he was a baseball player, he’d be being tested for steroids. because it’s remarkable the difference that he had, there’s such a variance in his numbers that it was remarkable. I don’t know if Matt Ryan can ever have that kind of year. And I think Kyle Shanahan’s a great coach. I think Kyle Shanahan’s a great coach. And I think Kyle Shanahan’s ready to be a head coach. And I wouldn’t underestimate the 49ers at all. I think he’s got Brian Hoyer playing well.”
I’m a little surprised there was no mention of his one year in Cleveland. It did not work out long-term there, but for a brief period, Shanahan and Hoyer did some surprising things with the Browns. He did big things with Matt Ryan and company, but they also had significant talent on the roster. They had Julio Jones and Mohamed Sanu catching passes, and Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman in the backfield. Shanahan and his coaches turned them, Taylor Gabriel, and others into even more significant weapons, but the talent was there.
On the other hand, in Cleveland, it was some questionable talent around Brian Hoyer. His top three pass catchers were Andrew Hawkins, Taylor Gabriel, and Miles Austin. Gabriel turned into something in Atlanta, and you saw it starting in Cleveland. But Hawkins and Austin? In the backfield, Shanahan had Terrance West, Isaiah Crowell, and Ben Tate. Not exactly a murderers’ row of backs.
Eisen asked him if they could win seven or eight games, or even playoff win total possibilities, and he pointed to the schedule offering some opportunities.
“Here’s what I do know about the NFL. Schedules matter. And the West plays the South. So, the NFC West plays the AFC South. You can collect a lot of wins if you’re playing Jacksonville, if you’re playing Indy who’s not very healthy, Houston’s the best team by far in that division — I think everybody has Tennessee as a sleeper team, I’m not there with Tennessee. So I think somebody could steal a bunch of wins from the AFC South or from the NFC West.”
I think Tennessee will be a better team, and could easily push Houston atop the division. But top to bottom, the AFC South has a lot of questions. The 49ers have a decent shot at two wins at least in their four games with the AFC South. And their of their four AFC South games come during the final stretch when they have a lot of winnable games. Maybe not enough to snag a playoff spot, but enough to pad the win total late.