The San Francisco 49ers’ season has been marred by injuries to virtually all of their best players. The Niners have more than $80 million in salary on injured reserve and lead the league in man games lost this season through Week 8.
NFL week 8 injury plot. Games missed to injuries versus team wins. Bubble size represents cumulative quality of players lost (Lost-av metric). Tweaked analysis from week 7 to better exclude opt out players. https://t.co/dXSKSG6Utx pic.twitter.com/QyYaS5Hk5e— Man Games Lost NFL (@ManGamesLostNFL) November 4, 2020
Despite missing all of that talent, head coach Kyle Shanahan said this after the loss to the Green Bay Packers:
“I’m really looking forward to these three days off for our players. I think it’s something that’s needed pretty bad right now for us. Then we’ve got New Orleans after that and we’ve got one game in the next 24 days. So, hopefully we can get three off. Go take care of business versus New Orleans, get back on track, enjoy our Bye Week and come back and try to turn this around here in the second half because it’s still early in the year. I still know we’ve got a chance to at least get in that tournament at the end of the year, but we’ve got to recover a little bit here with these three days and make sure when we come back, we start playing some better football.”
The good news is that Trent Williams and Brandon Aiyuk will be back in the lineup Sunday while Deebo Samuel, Kendrick Bourne and Raheem Mostert could play as well. The bad news is that San Francisco is playing a New Orleans Saints team that is on a roll.
The Saints have won five in a row and are clicking on all cylinders. New Orleans thrashed the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday Night Football and will be a heck of a challenge for a shorthanded 49ers team.
As Shanahan mentions, San Francisco will have its BYE Week after this Sunday, meaning the injury-depleted squad will play only once in 24 days, allowing some of the players to get some much-needed rest.
At 4-5, Football Outsiders gives the Niners a 9.9% chance of making it to the playoffs. The next three games will go a long way in determining if this team can make the postseason. Here is San Francisco’s schedule through Week 13:
Lose all three, and they’re toast. But, if Shanahan can lead the team to just one upset win over this stretch, the 49ers would be sitting at 5-7 with back-to-back games against the Washington Football Team and Dallas Cowboys the following two weeks.
Looking at the NFC playoff picture, 9-7 should be good enough to get in. The Chicago Bears are 5-3 but trending downwards with an offense that looks like a JV squad. The way things are going now, it seems like the Saints, Packers, Seattle Seahawks and Tampa Bay Buccaneers should get into the postseason along with whichever team mercifully wins the NFC East. That leaves two playoff spots; both are occupied by the Arizona Cardinals and Los Angeles Rams.
No. 1 corner Richard Sherman could be back for the game against the Rams, which would be a big boost for the defense. If Samuel, Aiyuk and Mostert can return and stay healthy, the Niners could have just enough to overtake either L.A. or Arizona. The Minnesota Vikings are 3-5 but seem to be turning the corner and could challenge for a playoff spot, but after that, the NFC doesn’t offer much.
Of course, things could go the other way. Nick Mullens has underwhelmed since taking over the QB spot with Jimmy Garoppolo out. If he plays the way he did against Green Bay, the 49ers will almost certainly be 4-8 after their next three games.
Then it would be time to shut down the injured starters and focus on next season. The bottom of the league standings has seven teams that will be lucky to win five games this season. If San Francisco finishes 6-10, it should be picking somewhere between eighth and 12th at the 2021 NFL Draft.
That could put the 49ers in a position to take one of the top quarterbacks available in the draft. The Niners will miss out on Trevor Lawrence and Justin Fields but could be in the running for either Trey Lance or Zach Wilson. This all depends on if Shanahan and general manager John Lynch feel it’s time to move on from Garoppolo.
It’s truly been a Season From Hell for San Francisco, but it’s far from over.
What do you want to see from the 49ers the rest of the season?
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Go for the playoffs
Tank baby, tank!