Welcome to “This Is Totally Your Year,” our overly optimistic preview of the 2014-15 NFL season for all 32 teams. We’ve broken down why every team — yes, even your team (and yes, even your team, Rams fans) — will win it all this year. We’ll also give some reasons for pessimism and even estimate an actual season prediction. Next up: The San Francisco 49ers.
Nope, the 49ers’ starting offensive unit never found the end zone this preseason — I knew they should have taken a left turn at Albuquerque. Their TDs (5) all came with backups on the field. In going 1-2 (he didn’t play in the preseason finale on Thursday), Colin Kaepernick was 12-of-22 for 115 yards, and didn’t run at all in the first two games.
And no one in San Francisco seems the least bit concerned about this. Jim Harbaugh is the sort who will show opponents nothing in preseason — and in fact the more he has, the less he reveals. Harbaugh would use undrafted players and guys off the street in preseason games if he could get away with it, so paranoid is he of getting a good player injured, or giving away a new formation or tactic. And since Trent Baalke has said that the team is going to open things up and try to go more to the air this season, I’m sure Harbaugh would rather play these games in an airplane hangar with no spectators.
No, the Niners’ preseason means nothing and the team isn’t worried (see below).
— Jennifer Chan (@jenniferleechan) August 24, 2014
If SF can’t score on the motley, leaky Cowboys defense on Sept. 7, then Jed York can be concerned. What they really should be worried about is the following Sunday against the Bears, which is the regular-season opener at their new digs, Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara. Because unless things change radically and in a hurry, there’s gonna be trouble. That field is unplayable.
The 49ers manned the bulldozers and completely replaced the turf at their home field for the second time in a week recently, at the cost of $1.4 million, after the field fell apart following its preseason game with the Chargers on Aug. 24. The same thing had happened after their home opener on Aug. 17 against the Broncos, and now people are getting a little worried. Apparently there’s some sort of super secret sand layer that’s being put down this time, with added Scotts Turf Builder EZ Seed, or something (the press release was not clear).
Amazingly, Levi’s will have hosted two soccer games before the 49ers have a chance to play a regular-season game there. It was the San Jose Earthquakes vs. Seattle earlier this month, and on Sept. 6 its Chile vs. Mexico in an international friendly. So that’ll be the final test run before the Bears game, and we’ll see if the result looks more like a plowed field, or an NFL-ready surface.
Reasons the 49ers will win it all:
Well, Kaepernick for one. Of all the talk about how the rest of the NFL has him and his running game figured out, the 49ers have still made it to the NFC Championship game twice in his two seasons running the show (three straight overall), and came within a pass of reaching the Super Bowl again last season. And it seems that his receiver corps/core improves with each new year. Last year it was Anquan Boldin arriving and amassing 85 receptions, 1,179 yards and 7 TDs — his best season since 2005 with Arizona. And Michael Crabtree only played the final five games of the season, but was strong. This season it’s Stevie Johnson (trade with Buffalo) and rookie Bruce Ellington as the two big new faces, and their contributions should be substantial.
But we don’t talk Niners’ passing game without the tight ends. Vernon Davis is the mainstay — still a fleet WR in a linebacker’s body. And Vance McDonald gives the team something they haven’t had in a long while — a legitimate 1-2 tight end threat.
Frank Gore is back of course, because he’s a cyborg. His heir apparent is Ohio State’s Carlos Hyde, who has had a solid preseason, but look for Marcus Lattimore to make waves. He’s the South Carolina RB taken in the 2013 draft who had a devastating knee injury in school, and was thought to be out, well, forever. But he’s almost ready to return.
The defense? The most impressive part of the Niners so far this season, to me. Glenn Dorsey (when he returns) on the nose, Justin Smith and Ray McDonald at the ends — they don’t get better than that. At linebacker, Patrick Willis (‘nuf said) and, well, who’s going to take over for NaVorro Bowman, who had that terrible knee injury vs. the Seahawks in the playoffs? Well, a few minutes ago, rookie Chris Borland just had a pick-six against the Texans (49ers won, 40-13).
Causes for concern: The Niners’ defensive backfield lost three guys: SS Donte Whitner (signed with the Browns, because going to Cleveland is what all the cool kids are doing), and CBs Carlos Rogers and Tarell Brown. Antoine Bethea (Colts) will replace Whitner, and it looks like Chris Culliver and Tramaine Brock will start on the corners. SF also got Chris Cook from the Vikings, and veteran Perrish (The Thought) Cox will also play a lot. The FS is Eric Reid, also solid. The Bowman injury (he may not return this season) is a big blow, and DE Aldon Smith is going to serve a suspension from the NFL for assorted naughtiness (weapons charge, DUI), but the duration has yet to be announced.
Prediction: 12-4, win the division, Nugget Nabbers make it to the Super Bowl again. Probably to face the Broncos.