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How many games this season will the 49ers have the better quarterback?

Going through each game to determine how many times the 49ers will have the upper-hand under center

San Francisco 49ers Offseason Workout Photo by Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images

It’s not often that the team who is the favorite to win a division, conference, or Super Bowl has question marks at quarterback. Yet, for what’s perhaps the fourth consecutive year, that’s the case for the San Francisco 49ers headed into the 2023 regular season.

The 49ers are the runaway favorites to win the NFC West. They hold a slight edge over the Philadelphia Eagles to come out of the NFC, while the Niners are neck and neck with the Buffalo Bills and the Kansas City Chiefs to win the Super Bowl.

That’s not too shabby for a team whose quarterback everyone predicts will start for the majority of the season can’t throw a 15-yard out route as of today.

Everyone expects Brock Purdy to pick up where he left off and lead the Niners to an astronomical points per game average again. The offense’s numbers were eye-popping when you extrapolate how efficient, effective, and explosive they were for the final month and a half of the season.

It’s easy to understand why expectations are so lofty. If there was an offensive category, the 49ers find themselves in or near the top-5 down the stretch last season. Will life be sunshine and rainbows for Purdy again this year? The schedule is a bit tougher. And while Purdy will have the benefit of a superb supporting cast and an incredible play-caller, teams always seem to play-up to the 49ers while more film on Purdy will only help the case for opposing defenses.

Today, we’re keeping it simple. If we go game-by-game, how many teams have a better quarterback than the 49ers?

We’ll use a couple of stats including EPA (expected points added), which favors the explosive plays. Success rate, which is more of a down-to-down stat. And Sports Info Solution's Total Points Earned metric, which is similar to baseball’s WAR. Finally, SIS has their version of quarterback rating, which is IQR, but doesn’t fault the QB for dropped passes, and includes other parts of the game, such as throwaways and dropped interceptions, for example.

Let’s be honest, no matter the stat thrown out, we’ll go with who our gut tells us is the better player. Purdy is going to have better numbers than Sam Darnold the Carolina Panther because Darnold wasn’t throwing to the same cast of wide receivers. That has to matter when evaluating the game. So, without further ado...

Week 1 – Sunday, September 10 at Pittsburgh Steelers – 10:00 a.m. PT

For the first four games, we’ll act as if Purdy is still on the mend and Trey Lance has won the starting job. So, in Week 1, we have Lance against another former first-round quarterback, Kenny Pickett. As we know, Lance doesn’t have any season-long metrics to go off.

EPA: 25th
Success Rate: 24th
Total Points Earned: 27th

We don’t have to waste time here. Give me Lance. Pickett’s IQR was so low that he didn’t qualify. He ranked a couple of hundredths higher than Davis Mills and Joe Flacco. Lance versus Pickett isn’t an argument worth having.

Whether it’s Purdy, Darnold, or Lance, the 49ers have the advantage under center in Week 1.


Lance or Pickett

This poll is closed

  • 81%
    (347 votes)
  • 18%
    (78 votes)
425 votes total Vote Now

Week 2 – Sunday, September 17 at Los Angeles Rams – 1:05 p.m. PT

EPA: 32nd
Success Rate: 20th
Total Points Earned: N/A

Stafford’s 2022 season was injury-riddled. He barely played half the season and came into the year banged up. It’s difficult to put too much stock into what we saw last year as we’ve seen Stafford lead the Rams to a Super Bowl title.

His numbers may not reflect it, but Stafford is still an upper echelon quarterback in this league. If you reverse the roles, Kyle Shanahan would take Stafford over either of the three 49ers QBs, and so would I.


Lance or Stafford?

This poll is closed

  • 33%
    (139 votes)
  • 66%
    (272 votes)
411 votes total Vote Now

Week 3 – Thursday, September 21 vs. New York Giants – 5:15 p.m. PT

Purdy could make his return for the home opener. That feels like the most cliché storyline, but we’ll roll with Lance for now. Giants head coach Brian Daboll and offensive coordinator Mike Kafka deserve all of the credit in the world for how they had New York’s offense and Daniel Jones operating last season.

EPA: 12th
Success Rate: 10th
Total Points Earned: 9th
IQR: 10th

Jones flirting with being a top-10 quarterback wasn’t something anyone imagined before the start of last season. That’s a reflection of his coaching and the situations they put him in. Another reason I like to use the stat IQR is that it accounts for rushing, which is something Jones is brilliant at.

This is closer than many 49ers fans would like it to be, but the natural talent wins out and Lance just gets the nod. What he brings to the table feels more sustainable than what we saw from Jones last year, even if there’s a small sample size.

Remember, even if a downpour in Chicago last year, Lance was still among the league leaders in Week 1 for first downs. Then, in Week 2, the offense moved the ball on both possessions.


Lance or Daniel Jones?

This poll is closed

  • 68%
    (275 votes)
  • 31%
    (126 votes)
401 votes total Vote Now

Lance is up 2-1 through three games.

Week 4 – Sunday, October 1 vs. Arizona Cardinals – 1:25 p.m. PT on FOX

The 49ers are likely to face a backup quarterback from Arizona for the third consecutive season. No matter if it’s Colt McCoy or rookie Clayton Tune, whoever is under center for San Francisco has the clear advantage.

It’ll feel the same for each game, as the Niners quarterbacks are grouped similarly enough where it wouldn’t matter who you select. If you like one of them, you’d likely pick them all over the opposition.

OK, Trey, your time is up. It’s Brock’s turn.


Lance or the Cardinals backup?

This poll is closed

  • 96%
    (366 votes)
  • 3%
    Cardinals backup
    (15 votes)
381 votes total Vote Now

Week 5 – Sunday, October 8 vs. Dallas Cowboys – 5:20 p.m. PT on NBC

Now we start to have some fun. The internet is not a fan of Dak Prescott. Like, at all. Prescott isn’t without his faults, but he’s far from a net neutral for the Cowboys.

Dak’s numbers in ‘22:
EPA: 8th
Success Rate: 3rd
Total Points Earned: 14th
IQR: 20th

Brock’s numbers in ‘22:

EPA: 6th
Success Rate: 12th
Total Points Earned: 22nd
IQR: 2nd

Purdy’s numbers were so good last year that you have to double-check to make sure you’re not looking at the wrong quarterback. The only QB with a higher IQR last season plays for the Chiefs. Purdy’s total points earned seems low, but it’s a data point that accumulates all season. On a per-game basis, only Kansas City’s quarterback had a better number, too.

Each 49ers quarterback had an identical turnover worthy throw rate last year, putting the ball in harm’s way 2.6 percent of the time. That’s 1.2 percent better than what Prescott did.

Who would you rather have under center? Dak is the better processor, has the better arm, and, overall better feel for the game. Dallas has the better quarterback.

After five games, the 49ers are up 3-2.


Purdy or Prescott?

This poll is closed

  • 66%
    (267 votes)
  • 33%
    (134 votes)
401 votes total Vote Now

Week 6 – Sunday, October 15 at Cleveland Browns – 10:00 a.m. PT on FOX

There’s no way to beat around the bush. Last year, Deshaun Watson was sub-par. Browns media has tweeted out that this offseason’s version of Watson has looked better than he did all last year, but that’s a low bar. Which version of Watson will we see this year?

EPA: 32nd
Success Rate: 30th
Total Points Earned: N/A

Purdy and Watson threw the same number of passes last year. Purdy nearly doubled Watson in Sports Info Solutions Total Points Earned metric while boasting an IQR 25 points higher.

And I’m still taking Watson. I’d expect both to regress to the mean to some degree. There are too many flashes of brilliance from Watson throughout his career.


Purdy or Watson?

This poll is closed

  • 62%
    (243 votes)
  • 37%
    (143 votes)
386 votes total Vote Now

Week 7 – Monday, October 23 at Minnesota Vikings – 5:15 p.m. PT

Is it OK to admit that Kirk Cousins is an above-average quarterback? Do I want him leading my team to a comeback in the fourth quarter? Can I feel the back-breaking interception coming? Yes.

But Cousins is a tremendous deep ball thrower and keeps the Vikings ahead of the chains. Here’s how he performed last season

EPA: 20th
Success Rate: 13th
Total Points Earned: 10th
IQR: 19th

I wouldn’t fault you for picking Kirk given his experience in this situation, but I’m going with Brock for one reason: his ability to escape and create. That’s where Kirk lacks, and, with the game on the line, I need my quarterback to have an ounce of athleticism.

The 49ers re-take the lead 4-3.


Purdy or Kirk?

This poll is closed

  • 73%
    (279 votes)
  • 26%
    (99 votes)
378 votes total Vote Now

Week 8 – Sunday, October 29 vs. Cincinnati Bengals – 1:25 p.m. PT on CBS

Joe Burrow finds himself in everyone’s top five. After last season, it’s well-earned:

EPA: 9th
Success Rate: 6th
Total Points Earned: 6th
IQR: 5th

Burrow is the ultimate gamer, much like Purdy. He’ll hang in there, take a beating, and get right back up and deliver a throw on the money. If Purdy can continue to keep the same competitive nature that Burrow has, the 49ers are in good hands.

I’m going with Burrow, as I think his accuracy is far superior to Brock’s, as is his pocket presence.


Brock or Burrow?

This poll is closed

  • 15%
    (58 votes)
  • 84%
    (314 votes)
372 votes total Vote Now

Week 10 – Sunday, November 12 at Jacksonville Jaguars – 10:00 a.m. PT

The string of quarterbacks the 49ers will play in a row should have us talking about their defense. Week 10 brings the next golden boy, Trevor Lawrence. He’s a very good, not quite great quarterback.

Lawrence isn’t quite elite in one area, but you could see him take his play to another level last year as the season went along.

EPA: 10th
Success Rate: 4th
Total Points Earned: 7th
IQR: 8th

Lawrence is a much better athlete than given credit for and even despite some hiccups in the red zone, had the Jaguars competing in games they had no business being in. Would I rather have Purdy throwing passes for the 49ers or Lawrence? I’ll take Trevor.


Purdy or Lawrence?

This poll is closed

  • 46%
    (169 votes)
  • 53%
    (194 votes)
363 votes total Vote Now

After an easy first month, the 49ers now trail 5-4 in head-to-head quarterback matchups.

Week 11 – Sunday, November 19 vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – 1:05 p.m. PT on FOX

Whether Baker Mayfield or Kyle Trask, San Francisco could win this game with Darnold under center. No quarterback had a worse EPA per play or success rate last year than Baker Mayfield. He wasn’t pushing the ball down the field. When he did, it was all over the place. Baker has a worse arm than Brock, who many would consider to have an average arm.

The comparison for poise is how Purdy runs away from this matchup. I’ll take the 7th-round rookie over how Mayfield has looked against pressure every day of the week. Needless to say, it’s a surprise that Mayfield will get another opportunity to start in this league.


Brock or Baker?

This poll is closed

  • 96%
    (346 votes)
  • 3%
    (14 votes)
360 votes total Vote Now

Week 12 – Thursday, November 23 at Seattle Seahawks – 5:20 p.m. PT on NBC – Thanksgiving

Geno Smith was one of the most pleasant surprises in the NFL last season. His numbers rival the gauntlet of QBs the 49ers will face in the second quarter of the season:

EPA: 15th
Success Rate: 7th
Total Points Earned: 11th
IQR: 17th

Smith would have crippling turnovers at the worst times, especially toward the end of the season. But he was, in my opinion, the best seam thrower in the NFL and the primary reason the Seahawks made the playoffs.

Will he be able to have an encore season? It won’t be easy. Still, I’d take what Smith put on the field, knowing that he did so behind a pair of rookie offensive tackles. Give me Geno as the 49ers fall behind by one again.


Purdy or Geno?

This poll is closed

  • 86%
    (314 votes)
  • 13%
    (51 votes)
365 votes total Vote Now

Week 13 – Sunday, December 3 at Philadelphia Eagles – 1:25 p.m.

Speaking of pleasant surprises, Jalen Hurts went from being replaced to becoming one of the highest-paid quarterbacks in NFL history. If Geno was the best seam thrower, Hurts owns the crown for the best “fade” thrower.

Hurts was fifth in EPA but 14th in success rate, which tells you he wasn’t as consistent down-to-down, but more than made up for it with explosive plays. Only three quarterbacks earned more points for their teams in 2022 while only Patrick Mahomes and Purdy had higher IQR scores.

This season may be a dose of reality for Hurts as he falls back down to earth, but I can’t get out of my head how unstopped the 49ers offense would be in the red zone with Jalen — especially after seeing Purdy and company squander short field and short field during the final month of the season.


Purdy or Hurts?

This poll is closed

  • 32%
    (117 votes)
  • 67%
    (245 votes)
362 votes total Vote Now

Week 16 – Monday, December 25 vs. Baltimore Ravens

There will be no poll for this as I refuse to let you talk yourself into Purdy being better than Lamar Jackson. Shanahan would be playing Madden with Lamar and the weapons the 49ers have.

Week 17 – Sunday, December 31 at Washington Commanders

The final team that isn’t a duplicate is the Commanders. Sam Howell is going to start after essentially red-shirting last season. It’ll be Howell or veteran Jacoby Brissett. At this juncture, we can expect Howell.

I’m not sure what Howell did better than Purdy in college, and, based on their surroundings, how Howell would have the leg up as a pro.


Purdy or Howell?

This poll is closed

  • 97%
    (348 votes)
  • 2%
    (8 votes)
356 votes total Vote Now

So, if we go based on every opponent, the 49ers have the quarterback advantage in eight games this season. Which games do you disagree on? Let us know in the comments.