The 49ers seem like they should win 10 games next season. Maybe more.
They won five in a row to close out 2017, and improved by signing running back Jerrick McKinnon and center Weston Richburg this offseason. Based on those upgrades, plus the strong finish to last season, you can see the 49ers winning 11 or 12 games next season.
Until you see the schedule. Then you think, “Maybe not.”
Or I do, at least. The schedule is tough.
Let’s go through it.
Week 1: Sunday, Sept. 9 at the Minnesota Vikings.
Brutal season opener. The Vikings went 13-3 last season, and had four All-Pros — two on the first team and two on the second team. The 49ers had no All-Pros. They had Jimmy Garoppolo, a promising quarterback.
The Vikings had Case Keenum, a serviceable quarterback. Now, they have Kirk Cousins, who’s terrific. They’re significantly more talented than the 49ers. Prediction: Loss. Record: 0-1.
Week 2: Sunday, Sept. 16 vs. the Detroit Lions.
Last season, the Lions went 9-7. This offseason, they signed LeGarrette Blount, who will improve their running game, and hired head coach Matt Patricia, who will improve their defense. This is a serious team on the rise.
But, they’ll be on the road, and this will be a must-win game for the 49ers. They can’t afford to start the season 0-2. Prediction: Win. Record: 1-1.
Week 3: Sunday, Sept. 23 at the Kansas City Chiefs.
The Chiefs got rid of cornerback Marcus Peters, who’s very good. But, they replaced him with Kendall Fuller, who’s good, too. They also got rid of a bunch of old guys, such as Tamba Hali, Derrick Johnson and Alex Smith, and replaced them with younger players. And they still have Travis Kelce, Tyreek Hill and Kareem Hunt, who are fantastic. The Chiefs are the team to beat in the AFC West. Prediction: Loss. Record: 1-2.
Week 4: Sunday, Sept. 30 at the Los Angeles Chargers.
Another tough game. The 49ers could start the season 1-3. The Chargers were 9-7 last season, and a lot of their key players were injured. Some expect them to win the AFC West next season. But, I don’t. Every season, a few of their key players get injured. The Chargers are an injury-prone team. And the 49ers won’t travel far to play them. Prediction: Win. Record: 2-2.
Week 5: Sunday, Oct. 7 vs. the Arizona Cardinals.
The Cardinals went 8-8 last season, and didn’t have their starting running back, David Johnson, or their starting quarterback, Carson Palmer, for most of the season. They were injured. Now, Johnson is healthy, and the Cardinals have a new quarterback — Sam Bradford, who’s good. But, he’s even more brittle than Palmer. Bradford played only two games last season. He may play none this year. Who knows? Prediction: Win. Record: 3-2.
Week 6: Monday, Oct. 15 at the Green Bay Packers.
The best quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo faced last season was Marcus Mariota. Now, Garoppolo will have to face Aaron Rodgers at Lambeau Field in prime time. That’s a lot of pressure. Prediction: Loss. Record: 3-3.
Week 7: Sunday, Oct. 21 vs. the Los Angeles Rams.
The 49ers almost beat the Rams at Levi’s Stadium last season — they lost 41-39. And they didn’t have Garoppolo yet. But, that was a Thursday night game, and those games are weird. Coaches hardly game plan for them. This one will be different. The Rams will have a full week to prepare, and the 49ers won’t — they’ll be coming off a Monday night game. Prediction: Loss. Record: 3-4.
Shanahan at a glance
College career: Wide receiver at Texas
Coaching career: NFL assistant coach since 2004, offensive coordinator with Houston (2008-09), Washington (2010-13), Cleveland (2014) and Atlanta (2015-16)
Recognition: Assistant Coach of the Year, 2016
Pedigree: Son of former NFL coach Mike Shanahan