The San Francisco 49ers’ 2019 regular season has come to a close, exceeding all expectations. The team finished with a 13-3 record, won the NFC West and earned the NFC’s No. 1 seed in the playoffs. The 49ers are riding high after beating the Seahawks in Seattle on Sunday for the first time since 2011, a goal-line stand earning them the division crown. The team earned a desperately needed bye week, their first since Week 4 - over three months ago.
It’s a good time to take stock of the 49ers’ ups-and-downs throughout the season and the team’s outlook at they head into the playoffs:
Stock up: Franchise
Coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch inherited a downtrodden roster coming off a 2-14 season and four head coaches in four years. Of the 53 current players on the active roster, only eight were on the team before Kyle and John arrived. The pair quickly implemented their shared vision for a roster through the draft and free agency. The 49ers steadily developed a tight-knit locker room capable of sticking together through two tough seasons of rebuilding and is now among the best teams in the NFL. There are over a dozen owners in this league that dream of finding success like CEO Jed York did when he hired Shanahan and Lynch.
Stock down: Intimidation
As the season wore on, the 49ers lost the aura of dominance they built up to start the year during the 8-0 run. Stiffing performances against the Los Angeles Rams, Carolina Panthers and Green Bay Packers steadily gave way to closer games and losses that diminished the 49ers’ intimidation factor. Now let’s be clear, we’re trying to find a weakness in the armor of a 13-3 team. That isn’t easy. The 49ers have proven that they can be any team in the NFL, but every team they face from here on out will be confident in their chances.
Stock up: Jimmy G
The narrative to start the season was Garoppolo and the 49ers offense doing just enough to win games while the defense dominated. It’s a theory that never held water, but even if it did, it’s all but evaporated. The 49ers’ franchise quarterback has proven himself a legitimate threat within Shanahan’s offense and has put together some phenomenal performances in the second half of the year. In his first season as a starter, Garoppolo’s 69.1% completion rate (3rd), 329 completions (4th), 3,978 yards passing (4th), and 13 wins (tied for 4th) were among the best in 49ers franchise history.
Stock down: Depletion
The 49ers have 16 players on the injured reserve. Among them are impact starters or contributors like linebacker Kwon Alexander, center Weston Richburg, defensive lineman D.J. Jones and defensive end Ronald Blair. They’ve taken like their lumps just like every other team. In the short term, though, the 49ers are getting healthier. The team expects defensive end Dee Ford, safety Jaquiski Tartt and guard Mike Person all to make their return to the starting lineup for their first playoff game on January 11. Shanahan said on Monday that there’s a chance Alexander returns if the 49ers win their first playoff game.
Stock up: Rookies
The 49ers have benefited from several standout performances from their rookie class throughout the season. No. 2 overall pick Nick Bosa has somehow managed to exceed high expectations, putting together one of the best seasons for a rookie defensive end Pro Football Focus has ever seen and earning him their Defensive Rookie of the Year. Second-round receiver Deebo Samuel has emerged as the team’s leading wideout, catching 57 passes for 802 yards and three touchdowns. Samuel also added 14 runs for 159 yards and three scores. Fifth-round linebacker Dre Greenlaw successfully stepping in for Alexander and authored his best performance on the last game of the season, totaling 13 tackles, one tackle for loss, one quarterback hit and the game-winning stop on the goal-line.
Stock down: Pilfering begins
Success comes at a cost in the NFL. The 49ers’ climb to the top has put their coaching staff in the spotlight of teams that’ve fired their coaches and are looking to rebuild. The Cleveland Browns parted way with Freddie Kitchens and staff after a polarizing season and have targeted multiple 49ers coaches. ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported the Browns are likely to request interviews with defensive coordinator Robert Saleh, run-game coordinator Mike McDaniel, and passing-game coordinator Mike LaFleur. It’s a ‘Who’s Who’ list of coaches that have been instrumental in the team’s new-found success.