There are two sides to every coin. The 2019 San Francisco 49ers lost three games during the regular season. One loss came at home after losing Weston Richburg, one loss came to the MVP in a downpour on the road, and another loss came in Week 15 when Richard Sherman sat out, and the team struggled to cover Julio Jones. Those one-possession losses have led many fans into thinking next year will be a breeze. I’ve seen so many comments saying the 49ers record will improve next year because of the close losses.
That’s not how football works.
You’re ignoring quite a few sequences that happened. The 49ers played in eight one-score games last year and won five of them. You could argue that the road game against the Cardinals, Saints, and Seahawks, as well as the home game against the Rams, were all coin-flip games that could have gone either way. Dre Greenlaw’s memorable tackle at the one-yard line against the Seahawks saved the day. It took a 3rd & 16 bomb to beat the Rams. It also took nearly seven touchdowns to outlast New Orleans. Even the Steelers game earlier in the season took a game-winning drive.
I wouldn’t rule out regression for the 49ers in 2020. That doesn’t mean they’ll miss the playoffs. It means that the team may not have the same success in 2020 in one-possession games with all the variance that occurs in football—health matters. San Francisco was once again near the top of the NFL in adjusted games lost in 2019. There is a good chance the Niners can be a better team with a worse record next year. I’m almost counting on it. Jimmy G has another year under his belt, as does Deebo Samuel. We’ll have Year 2 of Nick Bosa, who has the second-highest odds to win Defensive Player of the Year, and Fred Warner playing in his second season with Kwon Alexander, who brought the best out of Warner both on and off the field.
Arizona will be better, and they were already a thorn in the Niners side last year. The Rams will take a step back, but Sean McVay is familiar with the 49ers tendencies, as we saw last year. Even in the first matchup, the 49ers “only” scored 20 points. Seattle will always be a threat so long as No. 3 is under center. Generally speaking, teams aren’t consistently successful in one-possession games from year-to-year— which is why it’s critical for San Francisco to improve in other areas. Improving in the red zone should be at the top of the list. There’s no excuse for the 49ers to be ranked in the 20s on both sides of the ball in the most important part of the field. The second-year with Jimmy under center should help, as will health on defense. San Francisco was near the top of the league in the red zone until Jaquiski Tartt went down with an injury in 2020.
This is why it’s vital for teams to continue to improve. Banking on success in one-possession games isn’t sustainable.