This is a pretty exciting space on the calendar for sports fans. Not quite as riveting as late October, when the World Series is colliding with other games. But with the NFL in high gear and the NBA season unfolding, we have much to preoccupy us.
And November is even more intriguing this year, because of a competition that will take shape between now and the new year, but may not be decided until after Tax Day. You know what I’m talking about. Which local team will lose more games this season — the Raiders, the 49ers or the Warriors?
Let’s handicap the Great Race.
THE 49ERS: The 2018 season outlook has dramatically changed for the 49ers, based on news surrounding the quarterback position. Twice.
This was a solidly seven-to-nine-win team as the campaign began, an optimistic outlook based largely on the arm and mystique of Jimmy Garoppolo. When he blew out his knee at Kansas City in Week 3, the skies darkened. And it was no optical illusion.
Without Garoppolo, the 49ers were indeed terrible. They lost twice to the Arizona Cardinals, a team seemingly incapable of sweeping anyone. They lost to the Rams by 29 points. They handed out 14 turnovers in their first four games with C.J. Beathard at quarterback.
Then came the emergence of Nick Mullens. Jimmy G? It’s Nicky M time, baby! Mullens’ breakout performance last Thursday — 262 passing yards, three touchdowns, a rating of 151.9 — is causing Niners fans to recalibrate their expectations.
But allow me to toss a spike strip in front of this speeding bandwagon. We must remember that Mullens’ 38-3 victory came against the other NFL team in this analysis, the Raiders, who looked so lifeless that night, it might have been a production of Thursday Night at Bernie’s. Mullens was fantastic. He also wasn’t forced to so much as flinch against Oakland’s pass “rush.”
What if the passing pocket breaks down against the Giants this Monday night, or against teams thereafter? What if the Mullens Magic dies a quick death? Seems like a reasonable question about a man making his second NFL start.
The thing is, the 49ers’ schedule is pretty soft over the next month, before stiffening over the final three weeks. The remaining seven games go like this: Giants, at Tampa Bay, at Seattle, Broncos, Seahawks, Bears, at Rams. The Giants, Bucs and Broncos are all fairly dysfunctional right now. And the 49ers were competitive even under Beathard. They can win some of these games.
THE RAIDERS: Any false optimism the Raiders had built up faded weeks ago. Two of their past three losses, including the aforementioned 49ers game, were routs in which Jon Gruden’s players seemed preoccupied with their restaurant reservations or their Netflix queues. Objectively, the Raiders are the worst team in the NFL right now.
And yet I can’t quite bury them. I don’t know why. I may be delusional, especially after the recent defections (some forced, others voluntary) of guys like Amari Cooper, Bruce Irvin and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.
But I look at Derek Carr, and I still see a quarterback with ability and experience. All he lacks right now is confidence, viable receivers and time to throw. OK, that’s a lot, but Carr’s offensive line has been ravaged by injuries lately. If some of those blockers can get healthy, especially rookie left tackle Kolton Miller, it has the makings of a good line. And Gruden has the makings of a respectable offense.