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ESPN’s FPI ranks the 49ers 24th; gives the Niners a 39% chance of making the playoffs

The unknown of Trey Lance...

Arizona Cardinals v San Francisco 49ers Photo by Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images

ESPN released its Football Power Index preseason ratings Tuesday, which is a predictive model that includes ratings and projections for every NFL team to determine everything from how good they are on defense to the chances of each team making the playoffs.

Heading into last season, the 49ers were ranked ninth. Many predicted the 49ers to be a playoff team but weren’t sure how deep of a run they’d make. This time around? FPI has the 49ers ranked 24th, which is below the Giants and the Lions:

There’s a section in the article titled, ‘are the 49ers overrated?’ When projecting with models, and there’s not a big enough sample size to project how the most important position on the field will be, this is how you get a low ranking. Here’s ESPN’s explanation:

And if it is Lance, the model doesn’t see how the 49ers could possibly justify a win total of 10 and be considered one of the better teams in the NFC.

Our quarterback rating docks QBs who don’t play, under the reasonable assumption that one way or another not playing is a bad sign (injury or just not being good enough). Our model acknowledges that Lance came in as a strong prospect, but after just 71 pass attempts during his rookie year, it views Lance in the same range as players like Matt Corral, Joe Flacco, Justin Fields, Zach Wilson, Andy Dalton and Nick Foles. There’s upside there, of course, and perhaps he stars in his first season as a starter. But the mean expectation for Lance can’t yet be great.

The last sentence is fair. You can’t expect Lance to walk in and throw four touchdowns in Week 1. On the other hand, you could also justify ranking him with the rookie quarterbacks, given Lance’s lack of reps.

ESPN said the Niners would rank 13th if you project Jimmy Garoppolo as the starter. Is the gap between both quarterbacks that big? They said it’s fueled by Garoppolo posting “decent QBRs throughout his career — which is a lot better than what the model assumes the 49ers will get from Lance in 2022 on average.”

Anything referencing QBR should be taken with a grain of salt. First, it uses EPA (Expected Points Added) on an individual scale. QBR’s flaws are opaque. You may understand why a QB had a specific rating if you watched the game, but if not, good luck figuring out where he went wrong. Third, it doesn’t properly assess what happens.

All sacks aren’t the fault of the offensive line. If you make a good throw and it’s dropped, or make a bad decision that the defense drops, etc., all of these aren’t factored into QBR. There are several issues with citing QBR.

I could go on and on about the flaws of pretty much every QB stat. Also, more variance with Lance under center shouldn’t be viewed as bad. The offense under Shanahan will naturally be ahead of the chains. So, in theory, Lance’s mobility and the threat of a big play should be looked at as a positive.

The number I think is more accurate than most want to realize is the playoff prediction. The article talks about the 49ers' 39% chance of making the playoffs in the same Niners section.

Last year, the Saints were 9-3 when Trevor Siemian or Ian Book wasn’t under center. I’m not buying the Cardinals, but the Vikings cannot be counted out in a weaker division. And that’s before we count any other potential sleeper teams.

San Francisco doesn’t have to be perfect to make the playoffs, but there’s a plausible scenario where the team is on the outside looking in come January.