ESPN’s Bill Barnwell wrote about the most likely worst-to-first teams in the NFL, and, naturally, the San Francisco 49ers were high on the list. The Niners get a ton of healthy, productive players back from injury. To ensure moments like last year doesn’t happen again, depth was added at the positions where the team has been hit by the injury bug the most.
It’s tough to argue against what San Francisco did this offseason. However, this quote about the 49ers turnovers and record in one-score games stood out:
“San Francisco was 1-3 in one-score games a year ago and turned the ball over 31 times en route to a minus-11 turnover margin. The latter figure alone might have sunk Kyle Shanahan’s team, as it was 5-1 when it won the turnover battle and 1-9 when it did not, with its only win coming against the Jets.”
The 49ers 2020 stats can be taken with the biggest grain of salt you can find. That’s eight more turnovers than the team had in 2019. Of course, that was when they came in bunches for San Francisco, as there were seven games with at least two turnovers.
Your record in a one-score game is fickle and varies from year to year. Using ‘19 as an example again, the 49ers were 5-3 in one-score games.
There’s plenty of reason for optimism heading into 2021, and both one-score games and turnovers are near the top of the list.
The losses last year were excruciating. Week 1 against the Cardinals, Week 4 against the Eagles, Week 14 against Washington, and Week 17 against Seattle felt like San Francisco would win games. All but one of those came with a backup quarterback and a slew of injuries to the roster.
San Francisco’s last-place schedule should benefit them right out of the gate. They start the season against the Lions and Eagles. While those games are on the road, both teams finished the 2020 season with a combined seven-game losing streak. Plus, both teams have first-year head coaches.
There’s an extra game now, but teams that started 2-0 from 1990-2019 made the playoffs 72.6 percent of the time.
Taking care of the football will go a long way in making the playoffs. That -11 turnover differential was second to last in the NFL. The turnovers felt inevitable with either Nick Mullens or C.J. Beathard under center.
The ‘19 Niners defense was superb across the board. That unit was fifth in takeaways with 27. Last year’s squad was no slouch when it came to taking the ball away. San Francisco generated 20 takeaways, which is pretty impressive considering they did so without a dominant pass rusher.
Having a healthy quarterback should do the trick. That’s not adding pressure to Jimmy Garoppolo. I’m saying that you likely don’t have to worry about what happened during the Saints game last year. The defense forces a fumble, and Mullens gives it right back five plays later.
Washington scored 14 points without their offense taking the field. Seattle didn’t find the end zone until the fourth quarter. You could go on and on, but the margin for error is significantly greater with Garoppolo and now Trey Lance than it ever was before.
Add all of these together, and it isn’t easy to imagine the 49ers not winning double-digit games.