Murphy’s Law applied to the San Francisco 49ers’ 2020 season. In other words, anything that could go wrong for the franchise did last year.
Expectations were high after coming off a 13-3 record and Super Bowl appearance during the 2019 campaign. But any hopes of a revenge tour were dashed by Week 2 last season.
Already without top receiver Deebo Samuel, the 49ers lost Nick Bosa, George Kittle, Jimmy Garoppolo, Raheem Mostert and Richard Sherman to long-term injuries by the end of their Week 2 blowout win over the New York Jets.
The result of the injury-filled season was a last-place finish in the NFC West with a 6-10 record.
But general manager John Lynch and head coach Kyle Shanahan acted quickly to reload the roster. After re-signing several of their own key free agents, including All-Pro, left tackle Trent Williams, Kyle Juszczyk, Jason Verrett, Jaquiski Tartt, Emannuel Moseley and K’Waun Williams, Lynch and Shanahan dipped into the open market and inked Alex Mack and Samson Ebukam to deals.
The 49ers also gave up three first-round selections, plus a third-rounder to acquire the No. 3 overall pick, which they used on North Dakota State QB Trey Lance. Lynch and Shanahan are hopeful Lance will be the face of the franchise for years to come but also moved up to get Lance to provide insurance in case presumptive starter Jimmy Garoppolo deals with injuries once again.
With a loaded roster, oddsmakers have the 49ers among the favorites to win the Super Bowl next season. Pro Football Focus ran numerous simulations of the 2021 NFL season to look at each team’s best-and-worst-case scenarios for next season. Here is how they came up with the scenarios for each team:
The potential win-loss records highlighted in this piece aren’t truly the extremes. Rather, they’re the 10th- and 90th-percentile outcomes, meaning that 80% of that team’s simulation results fall somewhere between those two records. Inevitably, there will be teams that fall outside these parameters in 2021.
Here is what their data showed for the 49ers.
10th percentile outcome: 6-11
How they get there: The path is similar to San Francisco’s disappointing 2020 season. Quarterback is the position that holds this team back. Jimmy Garoppolo doesn’t elevate Kyle Shanahan’s offense in the way he would like him to, leading the 49ers to push Trey Lance into the starting job. And it becomes apparent that Lance still has work to do when it comes to pre-draft concerns surrounding his accuracy and experience.
The departure of defensive coordinator Robert Saleh and lack of depth at the cornerback position also keep San Francisco from posting their third straight season inside the top five in EPA allowed per play.
90th percentile outcome: 11-6
How they get there: The 49ers stay healthier for a start. Nick Bosa and Dee Ford can get through a full season and contribute to one of the league’s best pass-rush units. Both Bosa and Ford earned pressure rates of at least 15.0% when healthy in 2019.
Most importantly, Garoppolo and Lance remain healthy, and San Francisco gets quality play from the quarterback position. That certainly wasn’t the case in 2020. The 49ers ranked 28th in team passing grade last season, ahead of only the Jacksonville Jaguars, Philadelphia Eagles, Denver Broncos and New York Jets.
Aside from the injury concerns and the health of Nick Bosa and Dee Ford, the secondary may be an area to watch. Verrett was sharp last season, finishing as the eighth-highest graded corner in the league by PFF, but he has failed to stay healthy in four out of the previous five seasons.
Moseley, Williams and Tartt combined to miss 21 games last year, so the 49ers have to hope that their secondary doesn’t have similar injury luck in 2021. Lynch and Shanahan did add three pieces at the 2021 NFL Draft, selecting corners Ambry Thomas and Deommodore Lenoir and safety Talanoa Hufanga.
Garoppolo’s inability to stay healthy has torpedoed two out of the last three 49ers’ seasons, but he has shown he can lead a top-notch squad when healthy. If Garoppolo gets hurt or falters early in the season, Shanahan will turn to his hand-picked replacement in Lance.
IF the 49ers have similar injury luck as the defending champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers had in 2020, they should be fighting for home-field advantage in the postseason. The Niners need Bosa on the field, and if they can get anything from Ford, it would be a huge bonus for the defense.
The 49ers have Kittle, Samuel, Mostert and Brandon Aiyuk as offensive weapons who are matchup nightmares for opposing defenses. If all four players can stay relatively healthy in 2021, Shanahan should be able to unleash his full arsenal of plays throughout the season.
What do you think are the best-and-worst-case scenarios for the 49ers? If they stay mostly healthy next season, what do you think the 49ers’ regular season record will be?