ESPN has been simulating potential outcomes for each NFL team for years. They use their FPI (Football Power Index) and sim each game for the upcoming season roughly 20,000 times. From there, they combine each result and average them out for the full projection.
Only nine teams have a greater than 60% probability of making the playoffs for a league that thrives on parity. Nevertheless, ESPN insisted that the thousands of simulations give the most plausible outcome.
Through nine games, ESPN has the NFC West standings:
So, the offseason champs, the Arizona Cardinals, lost to one of the Jags, Vikings, or Titans. As for Seattle, they forgot to score more points than the other team through the first half of the season.
Is either of these two teams likely to finish five or more games below .500 through the first half of the season? Probably not. Will we laugh each week that it happens? You bet.
We’ll all take 7-2. San Francisco’s last-place schedule puts them in a great position to not only come out of the gates hot put themselves in an early position to make the playoffs.
I’m fascinated by what would happen, both good and bad, for the 49ers to reach 7-2 to start the season. But, of course, that would likely mean high-level quarterback play — whether it’s from Jimmy Garoppolo or Trey Lance — and the defense behind DeMeco Ryans hasn’t missed a beat.
That would also signal the secondary hasn’t been exposed, thanks to the defensive line mimicking the unit we saw during 2019.
Through the next quarter of the season, not many changes. The 49ers and Rams are tied at 8-3 atop the NFC West, while the Cardinals and Seahawks only win one more game.
By season’s end, the Niners finish tied with the best record in the NFC at 12-5. However, thanks to a poor second half, the Rams squeak into the playoffs at 9-8, with Arizona and Seattle finishing with six and five wins, respectively.
By now, you’re probably wondering where does Lance fits into all of this. Well, he’s a huge part of the Niners success:
Trey Lance sparks 49ers into divisional round
Jimmy Garoppolo hung on to the starting QB job for longer than you might have thought, as the San Francisco 49ers played well for most of the season. That is, until a three-game losing streak to the Vikings, Seahawks and Bengals from Weeks 12 to 14. San Francisco scored just 14 points in each of the latter two games, and coach Kyle Shanahan decided to make a change.
He went with Lance full-time, and the switch paid dividends instantly. The 49ers rattled off four-straight wins to close the season, finished at 12-5 and easily won an NFC West division that turned out to be less competitive than most figured in the preseason. The Niners’ 27.7 points scored per game during the regular season were second to only the Bills’ average (30.9).
Lance narrowly outdueled his draft classmate Justin Fields in the wild-card round, winning 20-17. But the 49ers ran into a juggernaut in Green Bay, the NFC North champs. Packers running back Aaron Jones caught two touchdowns in a 28-23 win for Green Bay.
How long Garoppolo hangs on to the starting job at QB will be the question we ask all year long. But, I feel for Jimmy in a sense knowing that with every turnover, mistake, or even incompletion, fans will call for Lance.
If we’re at a point in the season where Jimmy G only musters two touchdowns apiece in two weeks, I doubt there’d be much pushback if Kyle Shanahan went to Lance for good.
Seeing Lance versus Justin Fields in a playoff game would be great for the sport as they can showcase two of its future stars.
For as much as the 49ers have manhandled the Packers recently, last year's game has an asterisk next to it, Mike McCarthy and Mike Pettine are no longer on the other sideline. So even for Week 3, we are ignoring this guy named Elgton Jenkins at left tackle, who is a superb athlete and a future All-Pro.
I like San Francisco in the matchup, but I don’t think it’ll be a cakewalk, as some fans have indicated.
So, how do we feel about the result of the 49ers' hypothetical season? Of course, we all want a Super Bowl win. But would you be satisfied with how the season played out?