With opening day right around the corner, a group of fellow Eagles' bloggers and I, have decided to take a look at the teams we consider contenders in the NFC East, and the NFC in general. My charge: The San Francisco 49ers.
Check out the breakdowns from the other Eagles' blogs below:
Without further adieu, I give you the San Francisco 49ers, my pick to win the NFC Left.Last Year:
The Niners were a surprise team in '06, everyone's pick to click in the West was Phoenix, but Edgerrin James turned out to be a bust without Manning, Lienart spent too much time partying and the Niners snuck right past them into third place with a 7-9 record. Why? Well, the emergence of Frank Gore as a solid RB and fantasy stud didn't hurt, but I'm giving the credit to Alex Smith.
This young QB sure looks like the real deal, and his numbers last year (2890 yards, 16 TDs, 16 INTs) with a highly suspect receiving corps, were surprisingly decent. Had the Niner defense been able to stop anyone, they would've finished above .500 and maybe even challenged for a playoff spot. Which brings me to...The Off Season:
The Niners had two first-round picks, and wound up drafting two guys who will slide right into the starting lineup: LB Patrick Willis and RT Joe Staley. Both seem to have beaten out last year's starters and should provide the team with an immediate upgrade at two key positions. Good start.
In free agency, the Niners addressed their biggest need on the offensive side of the ball by signing WR Darrell Jackson from division rival Seattle. They also added a starter to their secondary, one very familiar to Eagles' fans, Michael Lewis. Whether Lewis will be able to cover anyone in San Fran remains to be seen, but he was
a Pro Bowler, so there's always a sliver of hope that he can regain his form and contribute.
One other ex-Eagle of note is still on the team, the Truck Driver, Sam Rayburn.This Season:
The biggest change, and also greatest concern for Niners fans, is a switch from the 4-3 defense to the 3-4. I swapped e-mails with a close friend who lives in Oakland to get the fan's reaction
to the Niners, and his biggest concern was the run D. Obviously, we're kindred spirits.
The Niners' defensive line has been like a sieve in the preseason, allowing 461 yards on the ground in 3 games. The bulk of that yardage has come against the "first" team D. The saving grace for the Niners is that their starting d-line has missed all three games due to various injuries (if injuries can be seen as a positive). All 3, Bryant Young, Aubrayo Franklin and Marques Douglas, are expected to be ready for opening day.
The question that will probably define this season for the Niners is whether the 3-4 will make this defense at least mediocre. If it does, the offensive unit should be able to put up enough points to win plenty of games.
The biggest impact player for the Niners' offensive unit didn't come through the draft, or free agency. He was already on the team. Vernon Davis is a game-changing tight end who missed 9 games due to a nasty leg injury last year. He has the size, speed and athletic ability to cause mismatches for any team, and his presence as both a security blanket for Smith, and a threat down the middle of the field will give this offense a dynamic passing attack. Couple that with Gore's emergence as an elite workhorse both running the ball (312 carries for 1695 yards and 8 TDs) and receiving (61 catches for 485 yards) and you have the formula for a top flight offense.
Smith is going into his third season in this offense, he has the right tools around him, it's time for him to put up a season in the neighborhood of 3,500 yards, 28 TDS and 15 INTs.
As I said above, I'm picking the Niners to win the West, here's how I think they'll do it:
1 Mon, Sep 10 Arizona (W)
2 Sun, Sep 16 at St. Louis (L)
3 Sun, Sep 23 at Pittsburgh (L)
4 Sun, Sep 30 Seattle (W)
5 Sun, Oct 7 Baltimore (L)
6 BYE WEEK
7 Sun, Oct 21 at NY Giants (W)
8 Sun, Oct 28 New Orleans (L)
9 Sun, Nov 4 at Atlanta (W)
10 Mon, Nov 12 at Seattle (L)
11 Sun, Nov 18 St. Louis (W)
12 Sun, Nov 25 at Arizona (W)
13 Sun, Dec 2 at Carolina (W)
14 Sun, Dec 9 Minnesota (W)
15 Sat, Dec 15 Cincinnati (L)
16 Sun, Dec 23 Tampa Bay (W)
17 Sun, Dec 30 at Cleveland (W)
Final Record: 10-6