A year ago, Sports Illustrated NFL reporter Jonathan Jones offered up his predictions for every team’s record in 2017. He had the San Francisco 49ers finishing 2-14, and while he was off with his concerns about Kyle Shanahan calling plays as a rookie, he did nail this line:
“I highly doubt the 49ers will find many wins in the first half of the season, so staying competitive in some of those early games would be more pivotal in reality than for our purposes.”
The 49ers lost a franchise record nine straight games to open the season, but then after claiming their first win, won five straight under quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo. And the addition of Garoppolo is why the rest of Jones’ prediction did not quite pan out. That turned things around in dramatic fashion, changing the short term and long term outlooks for the organization.
A year later, Jones is back with his predictions for 2018, and they reflect the changing expectations. He predicts a 10-6 record for the 49ers, but thinks it is probably not enough to get into the playoffs in a stacked NFC.
No team that missed the playoffs last year should feel as good about their odds in 2018 as the 49ers. They went 5-0 with Jimmy G with three wins against playoff-bound teams. They added Richard Sherman, Weston Richburg, Jerrick McKinnon and Mike McGlinchey after losing Carlos Hyde and Aaron Lynch. I’d say the 49ers got better there. A 10-win season would be San Francisco’s best since 2013, but I don’t see 10 wins (or even 11) getting you a playoff spot in this year’s NFC.
In predicting each team’s record, Jones also listed their pivotal game this season. For the 49ers, he went with Week 1 at the Minnesota Vikings. He thinks it is big in part because the 49ers could get big momentum with a win, but also because the Vikings strong defense will have all preseason to prepare with the five games of tape Garoppolo put up at the end of the season.
The 49ers don’t need to win in Week 1 to have a successful season, but that first game will tell us a lot about how teams might choose to approach Garoppolo and his strong end of season run. Those first few games of the schedule currently look like the toughest stretch for the 49ers, and they should give us a strong idea of what this team looks like right out of the gate.