The start of the regular season brings with it optimism for every team — well, maybe not the Raiders, but generally speaking, it’s a fresh start for everybody.
Some might say not every team has Super Bowl aspirations, but given how crazy the NFL can get with turnover, most every team can convince themselves they have at least a shot. “If X and Y happens, my team has a shot at a playoff spot. If we get in the playoffs, anything’s possible!”
ESPN’s Bill Barnwell took a look at each team and discussed what would need to happen for them to make the run to glory. He used ESPN’s Football Power Index, which provides a percentage of likelihood for each team to win the Super Bowl, and started from the least likely. The 49ers have the 17th best Super Bowl odds according to FPI.
We finally make it over the 1 percent barrier with the 49ers, who are destined to go 16-0 as long as Jimmy Garoppolo stays healthy. FPI must not know about Garoppolo’s past or perhaps has reasonable concerns about his ability to stay on the field until we actually see him make it through a 16-game campaign. The injury to Jerick McKinnon also creates some uncertainty in the 49ers’ running game during an early slate that includes matchups with the Vikings, Lions, Chiefs and Chargers.
The question mark for the 49ers is on defense and particularly in the secondary, where oft-injured former first-round pick Jimmie Ward is already a question mark for Week 1, and Richard Sherman is still recovering from his torn Achilles. Sherman will have to play well and serve as a tutor to a group of players still on rookie contracts outside of waiver claim K’Waun Williams. A breakout year from DeForest Buckner might make the secondary’s job easier and move San Francisco’s time frame up beyond anyone’s expectations.
The 49ers best chance at a breakthrough season is a pretty simple formula. Jimmy Garoppolo plays well, and the pass defense takes a big step up. It’s fairly obvious, but plenty of questions remain.
On offense, the 49ers biggest problem was in the red zone. The team ranked 27th in touchdowns per red zone appearance and 22nd in total points per red zone appearance. Jimmy Garoppolo completed just 37.5 percent of his passes inside the 10-yard line in his 5+ games as the 49ers quarterback. All their red zone stats were subpar. They have to do plenty of work between the 20s, but if the offense is going to take a serious step forward, we’ll see them turn their red zone appearances into more touchdowns.
On defense, it could come down to that defensive line. If Arik Armstead and Solomon Thomas can stay healthy, is that enough to help DeForest Buckner have a career year and generate a pass rush from the big guys rather than the smaller edge rushers? If they can generate the necessary pressure, that will be a big help to the secondary. A Super Bowl season would involve either Richard Sherman returning to form, or Greg Mabin or Tarvarius Moore having an unexpected breakout season. And yet, even with solid work from the back end of the defense, the pass rush is where this defense will make its bones.
ESPN’s FPI currently projects the 49ers to have a 1.3 percent chance of winning the Super Bowl. Football Outsiders published their initial 2018 playoff odds, and have the 49ers with a 1.2 percent chance of winning it all. FO gives the 49ers a 16 percent chance of winning the NFC West, and an 11.1 percent chance of winning the wild card. If things go right for them in a hurry this year, a playoff spot is within reach. If they can get in the playoffs, anything is possible.