The heat is on, and it is on in San Francisco, with the 49ers serving as the hottest team in America this offseason thanks to the way they closed out the 2017 season. Jimmy Garoppolo looked like a franchise-caliber quarterback and ripped off five wins to close out the season. He has a better career winning percentage than Tom Brady. Look it up.
Jimmy G draws the headlines for this team, but there are other reasons to get excited about what can happen with San Francisco in 2018. Jerick McKinnon was a splash signing in free agency, and even if he's not a workhorse back, he might be perfect for Kyle Shanahan's system. George Kittle landed on . Marquise Goodwin can take the top off and a healthy season from Pierre Garcon gives the quarterback a load of weapons. Mike McGlinchey should be an impact starter as a rookie at right tackle.
Defensively is where they're a sneaky problem for people. Arik Armstead, DeForest Buckner and Solomon Thomas could eventually form a dangerous defensive line. Reuben Foster had on Wednesday night, which means he is cleared to practice. Adding Richard Sherman and Malcolm Smith in free agency gives the defense a nice veteran presence at multiple levels. Prisco also swears by Adrian Colbert, saying he could be the "next great safety" in the NFL on a recent edition of the Pick Six Podcast.
The hype is out of control, but maybe not too much,.
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Early Schedule Analysis
This is an underrated part of the Niners' expectations: they open up with three out of their first four games on the road and all three of those games against teams (Vikings, Chargers, Chiefs) with winning records last year. The only home game is Week 2 against the Lions, who won nine games as well last year. Get through that and they can potentially pick on the Cardinals, who form the bread (home first) of a Packers (road) and Rams (home) sandwich. If the 49ers have a winning record midway through the season, they are for real. Home games against the Raiders and Giants before a Week 11 bye is a much-earned respite. The 49ers get two more road games out of the bye, against the Buccaneers and Seahawks. They then close with three home games -- against the Broncos, Seahawks and Bears -- before finishing off the season in L.A. against the Rams.
Why They'll Go Over
Because Jimmy G is The Truth. If he looks the way he did down the stretch of last year for a full season, he'll be in the MVP discussion. Shanahan is one of the best playcallers in the game and an offensive mastermind. They aren't operating with the greatest trio in the NFL, but they've got guys who fit nicely with Shanahan's preferred skillset. It's not hard to imagine this offense blowing up if the offensive line holds up. Defensively everything could click too -- the talent is there for this team to be a lockdown unit, it's just oftentimes really hard to imagine both sides of the ball taking a huge leap in a single season for a young team like this. But it's not completely unprecedented, and the 49ers are dealing with a rare situation, what with Jimmy G coming over midseason last year. You just don't see a quarterback move like that, and watching the 49ers late last season, it's hard not to fall in love with the idea of them taking a massive leap forward this year.
Why They'll Go Under
Again, a leap on both sides of the ball would be pretty incredible. This team was 2-14 just two years ago (Colin Kaepernick was running Chip Kelly's offense, which is a weird thing to say already). The 49ers are not supposed to arrive this quickly following a rebuild that saw Shanahan and GM John Lynch get six-year, fully-guaranteed contracts. Those sort of deals are an indication of patience. Injuries or a lack of growth on the defensive line could result in some serious troubles for that side of the ball. Foster needs to be healthy all season. Don't sleep on that schedule: somehow the 49ers won six games and have a brutal schedule.
I love Jimmy G and I really like the Niners. I think they're going to be good, and if this is seven wins or maybe even eight I'm contemplating going over. Nine is just too many wins for this team, which looked destined for a top-five pick until Jimmy G showed up. They'll be competitive and might win nine, but give me the under.