Head coach Kyle Shanahan and the San Francisco 49ers are champing at the bit to get back on the field in 2020 more than any other NFLteam. The last time we saw the 49ers, they let Super Bowl LIV slip away in a 31-20 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs.
Now, the question has to be asked if the Niners can avoid the dreaded Super Bowl hangover after losing in such heartbreaking fashion.
However, San Francisco did win 13 games in 2019 and found a way to win tight games on the road in hostile environments such as New Orleans and Seattle. This team shouldn't be intimidated by having a target on its back as the reigning NFC champion.
Jimmy Garoppolo is back at quarterback, and if the 49ers are going to finish the job and claim the Lombardi Trophy, it will be in large part due to Garoppolo elevating his game. The running back room should continue to impose their will on opposing defenses, as Raheem Mostert and Tevin Coleman form a nice 1-2 punch in the backfield with Jerick McKinnon potentially getting more involved. George Kittle, coming off an All-Pro season during which he caught 85 passes for 1,053 yards and five touchdowns, is the gold standard for tight ends in the NFL.
The 49ers acquired Trent Williams in an offseason trade with Washington after a tumultuous ending with the franchise that drafted him. If Williams is at his best physically, you can expect the seven-time Pro Bowler to play at a very high level. The biggest question to be answered on offense is at wide receiver, where health and quality depth are both concerns. Debo Samuel emerged as a rookie last season, finishing second to Kittle on the team in receptions (57) and receiving yards (802). However, Samuel is battling his way back from a Jones fracture that he suffered back in June. The good news is he is showing signs of progress, as he was during hard sprints in training camp in late August. Rookie Brandon Aiyuk (who has been limited in training camp by a hamstring injury), Kendrick Bourne, Dante Pettis, and the rest of the receivers will need to step up in a big way, especially if Samuel is not ready to go by Week 1.
There will be some additional pressure on Nick Bosa and Dee Ford along the defensive line to offset to lost production from DeForest Buckner. The 49ers traded Buckner to the Colts in the offseason to clear up some cap space and used the first-round draft pick they acquired on his successor, Javon Kinlaw. Fred Warner, Kwon Alexander, and Dre Greenlaw will form a strong linebacker core that will cause plenty of havoc for opposing defenses. Richard Sherman leads a secondary that limited opposing teams to just 178.8 passing yards per game last season, which ranked second in the NFL behind the New England.
The road to winning the NFC West won't be easy, as it will arguably be the best division in football this season. Seattle is always going to be in the mix with Russell Wilson, Bobby Wagner, and newly acquired safety Jamal Adams. Aaron Donald and the rest of the Rams will be looking to bounce back after going from playing in the Super Bowl two seasons ago to missing out on the playoffs in 2019. Arizona showed signs of potential late last season, and the offense led by second-year quarterback Kyler Murray added another weapon with the acquisition of All-Pro wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins from Houston prior to the draft.
So, what do the 49ers have in store for this season? Athlon Sports asked several experts to share their predictions for just how San Francisco's season will play out and what the team's record will be when all is said and done.
San Francisco 49ers Game-by-Game Predictions for 2020
Scott Whittum (@ScottWhittum)
If you are a fan of the 49ers, you could not ask for a better schedule to start off the 2020 season. Arizona visits on Sept. 13 to open up the season, followed by consecutive games against the Jets and Giants on the road. That should set San Francisco up to a potential 6-0 start, with home games against Philadelphia, Miami, and the Los Angeles Rams during this same stretch. The final 10 games will have some potential landmines, but there will be enough room for error to survive any losing streaks. Look for the 49ers to win 12 games and continue their reign as the NFC West champion after they beat the Seahawks in dramatic fashion late in Week 17 to clinch the division in what will be one of the top five games of the 2020 season.
Mark Ross (@AthlonMarkR)
San Francisco may look a little different than the team that played in the most recent Super Bowl, but the 49ers also have done a really good job of filling in those holes. Replacing left tackle Joe Staley with Trent Williams should be seamless, as long the latter stays healthy. On the other side of the line of scrimmage, rookie Javon Kinlaw may not be able to fill DeForest Buckner's shoes right away, but the first-round pick has the benefit of being a part of a deep and talented defensive line, a group headlined by NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year Nick Bosa. My concern lies with the wide receiver depth, which could be rather thin to start if Deebo Samuel misses any games in his recovery from a foot fracture. Fortunately, the 49ers open with three winnable games so that should give time for this offense to gel. In the end, San Francisco's primary competition to retaining its NFC West title should come from Seattle. Regardless of how the division turns out, the 49ers should be in prime position to make it two Super Bowl appearances in a row.
Ben Weinrib (@benweinrib)
Jimmy Garoppolo looks like a solid if unspectacular quarterback, which is concerning in this offense-centric NFL era. The good news is that Kyle Shanahan has one of the brightest play-calling minds in the league; he can seemingly create star running backs from scratch with his zone-blocking scheme. Deebo Samuel's foot injury shouldn't be a major worry since the early-season schedule is so soft, and Brandon Aiyuk adds another talented weapon at Garoppolo's disposal. Whatever deficiencies there are with the offense, though, can be made up on the other side of the ball. There's no arguing with the depth of talent in the front seven. Here's guessing that defensive coordinator Robert Saleh will miss working with this group when he becomes a head coach soon. Call me pessimistic about San Francisco's playoff chances until Garoppolo takes another step, but this is clearly one of the upper-echelon NFC teams.