Over the past two years, ESPN has put together a projection model they call their Football Power Index. They use Vegas win totals, how teams performed on offense, defense and special teams last season, how many starters are returning, and who the starting and backup quarterbacks are. There is more to it, which you can read about here.
It’s been a busy offseason for the San Francisco 49ers, and that coupled with their five-game win streak to close 2017 has brought high expectations for the coming season. People are not declaring making Super Bowl predictions quite yet, but they are moving up into the top third of the NFL in most considerations.
ESPN’s 2018 FPI index is no different, ranking them tenth in the league. FPI has the 49ers just barely ahead of the Los Angeles Chargers, Dallas Cowboys, and Kansas City Chiefs. The New England Patriots lead the way, along with the Philadelphia Eagles and Pittsburgh Steelers. The Los Angeles Rams are the top team from the NFC West (No. 4), with the Seattle Seahawks in at No. 16, and the Arizona Cardinals in at No. 29.
FPI offers up win projections and playoff odds. They project the 49ers at 8.7 wins, and give them a 46 percent chance of making the playoffs. The 49ers are mentioned as one of the potential playoff party crashers, but ESPN only briefly references Jimmy Garoppolo before moving on to other topics of discussion.
They rank the 49ers No. 9 on offense, No. 11 on defense, and No. 18 on special teams. Expectations are high for Jimmy Garoppolo and company, but defense and special teams are where we could really see some swings for this team.
On defense, the team will be counting on new additions in the secondary and boosted production from some returning pass rushers. If they don’t take a step forward, the defense could take a bad swing. On special teams, the additions of Dante Pettis and D.J. Reed opens the door for some big help in the return game. However, there is a certain amount of unpredictability to the blocking and coverage units.
Regardless, I have little doubt the 49ers will be a regular “darkhorse” selection for playoff projections as we get into the summer. Now we’ll see if they can live up to the hype.