(KPIX) -- Are the San Francisco 49ers the best team in the NFC? They made the Super Bowl last season after a whiplash-inducing turnaround. They retained many of the players on both sides of the ball that got them there, and adequately replaced others through trades, free agency and NFL Draft. Exit Joe Staley, enter Trent Williams. Exit DeForest Buckner, enter Javon Kinlaw. Exit Emmanuel Sanders, enter Brandon Aiyuk. There were other departures and arrivals, but on the whole, the team improved.
Yet Vegas projects the 49ers to win just 10 and a half games. This shouldn't necessarily be seen as a slight following a 13-win season and a Super Bowl appearance. The NFC West is the toughest division in the NFC in terms of projected wins. The Seattle Seahawks remain tough. The Los Angeles Rams should bounce back from an off-year. And the Arizona Cardinals will continue to improve.
"San Francisco is very, very good still, Super Bowl runner-up last year," notes SportsLine analyst Kenny White. "I expect them to win 11 games. Their win total is just 10 and a half. So I would shade to the over. Their offense I have ranked 12th, their defense second in the entire NFL. That's how they got to the Super Bowl. It was all about the defense."
The defense remains formidable, with Arik Armstead and Jimmie Ward returning and Nick Bosa continuing to grow. The unit ranked best in the NFL against the pass during the 2019 regular season, allowing only 169.2 yards per game. They routinely dominated inferior opponents. The offense, however, remains a bit of a work in progress.
"I have question marks about Jimmy Garoppolo," White points out. "He kind of slipped a little bit towards late in the year. I think he lost a lot of confidence. They were very fortunate to get as far as they did."
Garoppolo is seen as more of a game manager. The 49ers offense looks to the run first. And last season, Raheem Mostert, Matt Breida and Tevin Coleman were the engine that kept them going. The trio totaled almost 2,000 yards on the ground. Breida is now with the Miami Dolphins, but Mostert and Coleman remain. Still, Garoppolo will be expected to step up when called upon.
The team as a whole could face a letdown after its surprising Super Bowl season. The Rams managed only nine wins in 2019, the season after their Super Bowl run. As White explains, "these NFL win totals are all based on overs, so they go under 54% of the time because they're shaded to the over. People like to bet over. Now teams with a win total of nine and a half or higher the last five years have gone under 64% of the time. That's what scares me about San Francisco."
The NFL season will be fraught with uncertainty for every team, given how the coronavirus pandemic continues to reshape the offseason. Reservations about Garoppolo notwithstanding, the 49ers remain among only a handful of teams with a strong shot at making a run.
for more features.