Every April, the NFL releases the regular season schedule, and in less than 12 hours, you have more predictions than you can possibly fathom. I offered my wildly preliminary predictions last night, settling on a 10-6 record. I nailed last year’s 6-10 record, but only got two of the wins correct.
Each year, ESPN’s 32 NFL writers put together predictions for the team they cover, and each year they generally over-estimate how their given team will do. Every year, regardless of who is good and who is bad, the cumulative win percentage across the NFL will be .500. And every year, ESPN’s predictions result in something well north of that. This year, their 2018 regular season predictions have teams going a combined 289-223, for a .564 winning percentage. We’ll be doing something similar at SB Nation, and I imagine we’ll end up north of even that!
While April game predictions hold little value, we’ve had an annual exercise dating back to 2015 in which we look at what the predictions mean for the 49ers. We take a look at what each of the writers for the 49ers 13 opponents have to say about the results and use that to come up with a record. This year, the combined record for the 49ers based on opponent predictions is 7-9!
Most 49ers fans think the team will end up with eight or more wins this year. Most, but not all, will disagree with a 7-9 prediction. However, that prediction actually reflects well on the 49ers. We’ve done this the past three seasons, and the 49ers projections have been pretty awful.
So, 7-9 is actually pretty impressive, all things considered. I’ve dropped in the projected results below. If the 49ers were to actually open the season 0-4, I can’t even imagine the kind of panic there would be. The opening quarter of the 49ers season is a difficult one, but an 0-4 start would not be ideal.
The predictions have the 49ers going 2-6 on the road, with wins at Arizona and Tampa Bay. Both are winnable games, but if the 49ers are going to earn a playoff berth, they’ll need more than just a couple road wins.
Week 1: @ Minnesota Vikings - LOSS
The 49ers come to town after winning their final five games in 2017 with Jimmy Garoppolo at quarterback. Minnesota’s defense looks to continue its dominance at home when it faces former teammate Jerick McKinnon (San Francisco’s new bell-cow running back) after allowing 12.5 points per game at U.S. Bank Stadium last season. San Francisco has gotten better under Kyle Shanahan’s direction, as has Minnesota after a blockbuster offseason during which it signed quarterback Kirk Cousins.
Week 2: vs. Detroit Lions - LOSS
The Niners are an ascending team that showed promise at the end of last season with Jimmy Garoppolo as a quarterback, and West Coast trips haven’t ended well for the Lions in recent years. But Detroit has a benefit here. In theory, Patricia has faced Garoppolo over and over and over again during Patriots practices. So he knows what could confuse him. Without a huge book on what the Lions will do defensively, that helps.
Week 3: @ Kansas City Chiefs - LOSS
Alex Smith was the 49ers quarterback the last time they played in Kansas City, in 2010. Much has changed since, but the result won’t.
Week 4: @ Los Angeles Chargers - LOSS
The Chargers face quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo for the first time and the StubHub Center should be filled with 49ers fans. But I’ll take Philip Rivers and his cast of playmakers against a young San Francisco defense.
Week 5: vs. Arizona Cardinals - WIN
These aren’t your brother’s 49ers. Under quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, who won all five games he started at the end of last season, the Niners are poised to return to the top of the West -- and the NFC -- and Arizona will find out it’s not easy to beat Jimmy G, as they already knew from 2017.
Week 6: @ Green Bay Packers (MNF) - LOSS
The 49ers didn’t lose last season after they made Jimmy Garoppolo their starting quarterback. They could be on a massive winning streak dating back to last season if that continues. Either way, it ends here.
Week 7: vs. Los Angeles Rams (SNF) - WIN
It’s a small sample size, sure, but it seems as if Kyle Shanahan has a pretty good feel for McVay (or, perhaps more accurately, Rams defensive coordinator Wade Phillips). Shanahan’s 49ers gave the Rams all they could handle on Thursday Night Football last year, even though they were still so uncertain at quarterback. With Jimmy Garoppolo at the helm for the regular-season finale, they routed a Rams team that played mostly backups. Back at home, Shanahan will find a way to sneak past McVay’s starters in this one.
Week 8: @ Arizona Cardinals - WIN
The game before the bye is always a trap. Are players looking forward to the mini vacation? Or will they stay focused for one more game, especially at home? How the first seven games go will determine that but it’s still the Niners and still Jimmy G.
Week 9: vs. Oakland Raiders (TNF) - LOSS
Technically, Oakland is closer to San Francisco than Santa Clara. Also technically, there is more grizzled veteran talent on the Raiders roster ... in mid-April.
Week 10: vs. New York Giants (MNF) - WIN
The 49ers should be much improved this season. This won’t be an easy game. It’s an L right now.
Week 11: BYE
Week 12: @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers - WIN
The Bucs know Kyle Shanahan’s offenses from his time with [Washington] and more recently, the Atlanta Falcons, but this will be their first time seeing quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, whose 1,542 passing yards in his first five starts was more than Joe Montana and Steve Young combined (1,479). He also had seven-consecutive wins to start his career, tied for the fourth-longest streak in the Super Bowl era.
Week 13: @ Seattle Seahawks (SNF) - LOSS
Sherman’s first game against his former team comes in prime time, just like it should be. Get your popcorn ready and watch the Seahawks continue to have the 49ers’ number, at least for now.
Week 14: vs. Denver Broncos - WIN
The Broncos get their first look at quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo -- the 49ers’ $137 million man -- leading a team that also added Richard Sherman as former Broncos safety John Lynch works through his second year as the 49ers’ general manager. This is the Broncos’ first regular-season game against the 49ers in California since 2002 -- the 49ers were the “home” team against the Broncos in London in 2010.
Week 15: vs. Seattle Seahawks - WIN
Assuming a victory in the first meeting, the Seahawks will have won 10 straight games over the 49ers dating back to the NFC Championship Game during the 2013 season. But Jimmy Garoppolo will help end that streak here.
Week 16: vs. Chicago Bears - LOSS
Robbie Gould’s revenge, again? Maybe. But Trubisky -- barring injury -- figures to have a much better grasp on the offense this late in the year. In an upset, Trubisky and Nagy outwit Jimmy Garoppolo and Kyle Shanahan for an unexpected and important road victory.
Week 17: @ Los Angeles Rams - LOSS
If given another chance, one has to wonder if McVay would’ve handled the last week of last year’s regular season differently -- if he would have played his starters a little bit more, or perhaps given them more practice time, so that they wouldn’t have come out as flat as they did in the ensuing playoff loss to the Atlanta Falcons. Regardless, this game could have serious ramifications. The 49ers could be that much better. Given that, McVay will get the best of Shanahan to split the season series.