The season officially kicks off tonight, meaning this is the last chance to submit predictions for the season before they are invalidated. The 49ers enter the 2022 season with what I believe is their strongest roster in the previous decade.
With Trey Lance taking the reins as the starting quarterback for the first time in his NFL career, there is some natural uncertainty at the most important position in the sport. But, I’m here to tell you why I don’t think it will prevent this team from reaching double-digit wins and securing a playoff birth this season.
Let’s start with the defensive line. This is the most talented group from top to bottom in the entire league, a group that is so deep that they somehow ended up with a talent like Kemoko Turay on the practice squad. Nick Bosa leads the way on the edge, with Arik Armstead providing invaluable flexibility to lineup anywhere on the line.
Samson Ebukam looks to continue right where he left off to close the 2021 season, and Javon Kinlaw appears to be ready to silence the criticism he has endured over his first two years in the league. Don’t sleep on Kevin Givens either; he is a player I expect to take a significant leap this year as the 49ers look to replace the hole left by DJ Jones's departure.
Lance will dominate the headlines, but this defense is ultimately what is going to determine what the ceiling of this team is.
Beyond the talent at the line of scrimmage, the 49ers also boast the best linebacker trio in the entire NFL. It does not get better at the second level than Fred Warner, Azeez Al-Shaair, and Dre Greenlaw.
The secondary has been revamped with four new Week 1 starters, including marquis free agent signing Mooney Ward, who has appeared to be every bit of the number one cornerback the 49ers brought him to the Bay Area. In addition, rookie Samuel Womack is penciled in as the starting nickel corner after an impressive preseason, and second-year safety Talanoa Hufanga is locked into a starting spot.
The defense looks as deep on paper as it ever has in recent seasons, which is important as they will be without starting safety and team captain Jimmie Ward for at least the first four games of the season.
The 49ers have had a top-five defense in each of the last three seasons, and a strong argument can be made that this is the most talent they have had on that side of the ball over that span. However, this team’s success starts and stops with this defense, especially with the offense in a transitional period.
Switching gears to the offense, while the attention will be focused on Lance and how he performs week to week, the success of this unit ultimately falls on Kyle Shanahan. Lance was his handpicked quarterback, and he has no shortage of weapons to scheme up enough offense to get by, even if there are some growing pains early on.
On paper, life should be easier for any quarterback when they have players like Deebo Samuel, George Kittle, and Brandon Aiyuk to throw the ball to. Then when you add in Shanahan’s ability to manufacture offense with the running game and get his playmakers with the ball in space, the outlook for this offense should be rather positive.
The real benefit is that with an elite defense, they aren’t going to have to light up the scoreboard week after week to be contenders. They need to take care of the football and avoid regularly committing costly turnovers. The rest should sort itself out organically throughout a 17-game season.
The 49ers have all the makings of a team poised to make a run at the division crown, and there is a strong argument to be made that they can go toe to toe with any other team in the league on any given Sunday.
I think double-digit wins a loose floor. Of course, the unknown variable of Lance makes it a bit harder to project, but given the talent on the roster and what we have seen in Lance’s limited sample size, there is every reason to believe this team could win ten games while falling asleep at the wheel.
The 49ers do, however, play a challenging schedule. They will face off with the AFC West, a division with four teams that all look like playoff contenders entering the season. In addition, they have difficult matchups the Buccaneers and Saints, as well as the tough slate they face within their own division.
All things considered, my final prediction for this team is 11-6. I think that will be enough to win the NFC West, and the 49ers will be hosting a playoff game when January rolls around.