Consistently one of the top teams in the NFL, the San Francisco 49ers have come closer to a Lombardi Trophy than most any other team in the last few years. Can they replicate that success even with uncertainty at quarterback?
Injuries to quarterbacks ruined the 49ers' chances of reaching last season’s Super Bowl as Brocky Purdy and then Josh Johnson were knocked out of the NFC Championship game against the Philadelphia Eagles, who then proceeded to pummel the quarterback-less Niners.
Doubts over Purdy’s health linger on and cloud the picture heading into the new season for a well-coached franchise that’s made three of the last four NFC title deciders.
Click here to read all NFL Season Outlooks for the 2023/24 season.
|What:||2023/24 NFL Season|
|When:||Thursday, September 7th, 2023 - Sunday, February 11th, 2024|
|How to watch:||ESPN, FOX, NBC, CBS and on-demand with NFL Game Pass|
|49ers Odds:||To win Super Bowl LVIII +900, to win the NFC +350, to win the NFC West -175|
1st NFC West (13-4). Lost in NFC championship game.
A lot depends on who starts at quarterback for the 49ers because there’s no doubt they have the surrounding talent to go on another playoff run if the single caller is right.
The defence gave up the fewest points and yards per game last year, topping Football Outsiders’ defensive DVOA metric.
And while the Niners again look thin at cornerback, their defensive front has been improved with the signing of Javon Hargrave from the Philadelphia Eagles.
For the second off-season running, they lost their defensive coordinator, but that hasn’t slowed down Nick Bosa and co before.
On offence, they possess three elite talents in Christian McCaffrey, Deebo Samuel and George Kittle, who operate under the watch of offensive guru and head coach Kyle Shanahan.
They ranked fifth in total offence by the end of the season, despite a revolving door at quarterback which saw Trey Lance start the year under centre, only to break his leg two games in.
Jimmy Garoppolo stepped in for 11 games before he got hurt, leaving the Niners with no choice but to start seventh round pick Purdy.
Purdy was brilliant for eight games, posting a 107 QB rating, but doubts linger over whether that run was a one-off, while the elbow injury he suffered against the Eagles makes him doubtful for the start of the season.
That leaves the 49ers with two options, start Lance, who has shown little in his two years in the league, or Sam Darnold, who did fine in Carolina last year but isn’t a Super Bowl-calibre quarterback.
San Francisco are still projected to be a good team and are +135 to go over their 11.5-game win total.
But unless Purdy can pick up from where he left off, they could have a hard time getting back to the Super Bowl.
The 49ers start the season on the road with a trip to the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week One in what’s liable to be a defensive showdown.
The Steelers are coming off a 9-8 season, which was above expectations for a franchise with a rookie quarterback, Kenny Pickett, under centre.
The Niners have lost four of their last six Week One games but are favored, -155, to win in Pittsburgh.
The Steelers, who are 14-5-1 across the last 20 years on opening weekend, are +135 for the win.
San Francisco’s fixture list might be the fifth-easiest based on strength of schedule, but it does involve a lot of travelling with the 49ers set to clock up 29,958 miles.
After playing their first two games on the road, the Niners have a three-game home stand between Week 3 and Week 5 when they’ll face the Giants, Cardinals and Cowboys.
Following the week eight clash with another playoff team, the Cincinnati Bengals, the Niners have their bye week.
They face their toughest stretch between Week 12 and Week 14, taking on the Seattle Seahawks twice, either side of a return trip to Philadelphia to face the Eagles in an NFC Championship game rematch.
With three NFC Championship Game appearances and a trip to the Super Bowl in his first six seasons as head coach, the Niners must be delighted they chose the former Atlanta Falcons offensive coordinator Shanahan to be their HC in 2017.
Shanahan had some bad luck with injuries to key players in his first couple of years at the helm before overseeing dramatic improvement in 2019 as the 49ers finished top of the NFC West with a 13-3 regular season record and went on to lose to the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LIV.
The Niners have since been to the NFC Championship game twice in the last three years, and yet questions have been asked of Shanahan’s decision-making and scheme at key moments in games, believing he’s made costly mistakes.
IDL Javon Hargrave (Philadelphia Eagles)
Edge Clelin Ferrell (Las Vegas Raiders)
QB Sam Darnold (Carolina Panthers)
LT Matt Pryor (Indianapolis Colts)
LG Jon Feliciano (New York Giants)
CB Isaiah Oliver (Atlanta Falcons)
WR Chris Conley (Tennessee Titans)
IDL Austin Bryant (Detroit Lions)
S Jimmie Ward (Houston Texans)
QB Jimmy Garaoppolo (Las Vegas Raiders)
Edge Samson Ebukam (Indianapolis Colts)
CB Emmanuel Moseley (Detroit Lions)
RT Mike McGlinchey (Denver Broncos)
LB Azeez Al-Shaair (Tennessee Titans)
RG Daniel Brunskill (Tennessee Titans)
IDL Hassan Ridgeway (Houston Texans)
S Tarvarius Moore (Green Bay Packers)
Edge Charles Omenihu (Kansas City Chiefs)
CB Jason Verrett
WR Jordan Matthews
|Offensive MVP||Christian McCaffrey|
|Defensive MVP||Nick Bosa|
|Top rookie||Ronnie Bell (seventh round)|
|Breakout star||Jordan Mason|
Christian McCaffrey decided being traded mid-season to the 49ers as “the best thing that ever happened to him” and with good reason.
McCaffrey is a perfect fit for Kyle Shanhan’s system and slotted in seamlessly, ending the season averaging over 110 all-purpose yards per game and scoring ten touchdowns.
On defence, Nick Bosa enjoyed another monster year and deservedly picked up the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year prize after registering a league-high 18.5 sacks.
He also had a joint-high 90 pressures and registered 48 quarterback hits as the leader of an impressive Niners defence.
When it came to the draft, the Niners didn’t have a pick in the first two rounds and when they did get to the podium, they made some intriguing choices.
One of which was a seventh-round pick, Michigan wide receiver Ronnie Bell, who showed elite ball skills in college before suffering a serious knee injury in 2021.
If San Fran can get him right, they may have a draft steal on their hands.
It’s become a running joke about how many running-backs the 49ers have on their roster at any one time.
Now they have McCaffrey, the pool of running-backs has shrunk slightly with Jordan Mason third on the depth chart.
That’s a position with limited breakout potential, but given McCaffrey and Elijah Mitchell’s injury history, Mason, who showed flashes of what he can last year, could see some snaps in an offence designed to show off running-backs.