Welcome to the 2020 installment of the “How Your Favorite Team Won The Super Bowl” Series.
In this adventure, we’ll take a good, hard look at select NFL teams, show you their Super Bowl odds heading into the season, give you a little overview on what they’ve got to work with and what might be going on in their facility, then proclaim three key factors that must go in their favor in order for them to be crowned atop football’s Aggro Crag when all the confetti has settled.
For some, the list of variables that need to go right might not only be plausible, but expected. For others, their three factors might require a bit more creativity.
Today, we break down last year’s runner up, and the current NFC Champions, the San Francisco 49ers.
State of the Franchise
Man, San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan has to get one—I’ll be very sad if he doesn’t. Really since the 2016 season, where Shanahan orchestrated an offense in Atlanta that saw quarterback Matt Ryan win MVP and saw the Falcons reach the Super Bowl, Shanahan has been one of the top names in offensive conversations around the league.
The game of football is constantly evolving, which means sustained success is truly a feat. Shanahan has not only created an offense to reach one Super Bowl, but he’s done it twice. Yet his trophy case has zero Lombardi Trophies to show for it.
The State of the Niners’ franchise is this: this is one of the top rosters in the NFL with one of the top head coaches leading them. They have some of the best odds to not only get back to the Super Bowl but win the whole thing. The NFC is tough, and the NFC West specifically is the toughest division in football, but the Niners are a big reason for that. It’s Super Bowl or bust at this point for this team.
Preseason Super Bowl Odds
10/1 (3rd best)
WHAT MUST HAPPEN FOR 49ERS TO WIN THE SUPER BOWL
1. Playoff Experience Must Show For Jimmy G
Jimmy Garoppolo has the same amount of seasons played as he does losses in his career. He’s been in the league for six years and, including last year’s Super Bowl, has six total losses. In terms of years, Garoppolo has been in the league a while, but his lack of experience as a starter showed up in the biggest game of the year down the stretch.
2019 was the first season in which Garoppolo played and started in all 16 games. His team won an impressive 13 games in the regular season and rode their home-field advantage all the way to an NFC Championship. But when it came to that final game of the year, Garoppolo didn’t seem to have that killer instinct.
Garoppolo is a good quarterback. His 2019 year was very efficient, completing almost 70 percent of his passes for nearly 4,000 yards, 27 passing touchdowns, and just 13 interceptions. If you look at just his average yards per attempt, Garoppolo’s 8.4 average was third best in the league. But if you look at a more advanced stat, his intended air yards per pass attempt average of 6.5 was 31st in the league.
Now, is that without context hard truth that a quarterback is not adequate? Of course not. Drew Brees was right below Garoppolo ranked 32nd in that category; I’d say people have plenty of faith in him to get it done. There’s also no reason to punish a quarterback if their offense is designed well enough to get the ball to players in space so they can create plays after the catch. I am not trying to do that with Garoppolo. All I am saying is that when the time really came for his arm to be a weapon against that of a Super Bowl-caliber quarterback on the other sideline down the stretch, Garoppolo wasn’t ready to get to a level he needed to be. Maybe that kind of stat was a sign that he wasn’t totally ready for that magnitude of a game.
As stated before, 2019, for as long as Groppolo has been in the league, was really our first good look at him as a true full-time starter. With both success and failure under his belt, now we’ll see what he can really do.
2. “X” Receiver Must Be An X-Factor
I’ve long considered wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders to be one of the more underrated players in the NFL. I feel like his impact and versatility in an offense with how he can line up and be effective on or off the line of scrimmage isn’t talked about enough, and he’s always been a guy who can pull a crazy play out of his hat every so often.
That first part is what the Niners will miss most with his departure.
Sanders signed with the New Orleans Saints in free agency in 2020, and because of this, the Niners will have to find another reliable “X” receiver. The X receiver is a crucial part of a passing offense because that player is the one who lines up on the line of scrimmage, and in doing so often has to deal with press coverage.
Think about the fundamentals of playing wide receiver. If the guy defending you can’t get his hands on you when you’re taking your first steps, there’s a much better chance they won’t be able to keep up with you or disrupt your route by the time you get momentum on your side. So for slot (sometimes) and “Z” receivers, they have a built-in advantage when they can start their route a step behind the line. But with only so many players allowed behind the line of scrimmage, there has to be at least one receiver on the line. That’s where the X comes in.
Being a good X receiver can have many benefits, but for the 49ers, having Sanders on the line of scrimmage was a double positive because he was a guy who could handle press coverage and also allowed the Niners to use players like Deebo Samuel off the line of scrimmage as a slot or Z receiver while also allowing him to move in pre-snap motion before the play. This proved to be a huge advantage for Samuel in Shanahan’s system, as he had a huge year.
Though the Niners drafted a talented wide receiver in Brandon Aiyuk in the first round to replace Sanders, the biggest replacement for him isn’t in talent, but in usage. At Arizona State, Aiyuk was great at creating yards after the catch and being explosive, but he was not reliable against press. The Niners will have to find a player they can rely on as an X, not just to win their own matchup, but to free up the other receivers and how they are aligned.
3. No DeForest? No Problem
The Niners had one of the best, if not the best, defenses in the NFL last season. They had arguably the best cornerback in Richard Sherman, one of the best young linebackers in the game in Fred Warner, one of the top slot cover players in K’Waun Williams, and one of the stoutest defensive lines, led by Nick Bosa and DeForest Buckner.
Buckner is now gone, as the team traded him for a first-round pick this past offseason. Bosa will continue to be a force off the edge, and the line still boasts talented players like Arik Armstead, Solomon Thomas, and Dee Ford, as well as their first-round pick Javon Kinlaw. The hype is there for them still, they just have to make it happen again.
The Niners were sixth in the NFL in total sacks with 48 and third in terms of sacks per game. They need to be in that top 10, if not the top five, yet again for 2020 to fend off a tough NFC to make it to back-to-back Super Bowls.