In some ways the 49ers were a very schizophrenic bunch in finishing 12-4 last season. They had two two-game losing streaks but otherwise looked mostly dominant. Neither of the first two losses, at Seattle and home to Indianapolis, were close. The other two, to Carolina and at New Orleans, were by a combined four points. The 49ers won at Green Bay in the wild-card round on a last-second field goal in Ice Bowl conditions. San Francisco then totally shut down Carolina in the divisional round to earn a third shot with Seattle. The Niners were the better team for three quarters, but Colin Kaepernick had three fourth-quarter turnovers, including the interception that clinched Seattle's 23-17 victory.
It's fair to say the Kaepernick regressed a bit in 2013. He started every game for the first time but completed only 58.4 percent of this throws in the regular season, four percent less than his breakout 2012 season. His rating dropped nearly seven points. In Kaepernick's defense, he didn't have No. 1 receiver Michael Crabtree for the first 11 games due to injury. The Niners didn't lose a regular-season game with him in the lineup. Anquan Boldin proved to be a great addition, leading the team with 85 catches for 1,179 yards, but San Francisco was No. 30 in passing. Frank Gore rushed for 1,128 yards and nine scores, but what will he have left this year at 30? That's usually the age when backs begin to noticeably slip.
The San Francisco defense was again one of the NFL's best, ranking No. 5 in yards allowed and third in points (17.0 ppg). There are questions about two standouts on that unit for 2014: inside linebacker NaVorro Bowman suffered a very serious knee injury in the playoff loss to Seattle, and co-leading sacker Aldon Smith is in legal hot water and facing a likely lengthy suspension.
Key Offseason Moves
The 49ers weren't super busy this offseason. The re-signed Boldin and he can now slot in as the No. 2 behind Crabtree. The Niners lost three guys in their secondary in Tarell Brown (10 passes defensed), Carlos Rogers (47 tackles, two interceptions) and Donte Whitner (73 tackles, two picks), but signed Colts safety Antoine Bethea and Vikings cornerback Chris Cook.
It's still not clear if Smith will play a down this season for the 49ers, whether that's by their choice or the NFL's. The team is still hoping to sign Kaepernick to a long-term deal as well, but the sides aren't close. There has been some talk the team is looking to trade running back LaMichael James. With Gore getting up there in age the 49ers are likely to use more of Kendall Hunter and Marcus Lattimore, who didn't play at all last season after a gruesome injury suffered in his final season at South Carolina. He was still a fourth-round pick in the 2013 draft.
2014 Schedule (all
Week 1: Sunday, Sept. 7, at Dallas, 4:25 p.m.
Week 2: Sunday, Sept. 14, Chicago, 8:30 p.m.
Week 3: Sunday, Sept. 21, at Arizona, 4:05 p.m.
Week 4: Sunday, Sept. 28, Philadelphia, 4:25 p.m.
Week 5: Sunday, Oct. 5, Kansas City, 4:25 p.m.
Week 6: Monday, Oct. 13, at St. Louis, 8:30 p.m.
Week 7: Sunday, Oct. 19, at Denver, 8:30 p.m.
Week 8: BYE
Week 9: Sunday, Nov. 2, St. Louis, 4:05 p.m.
Week 10: Sunday, Nov. 9, at New Orleans, 1 p.m.
Week 11: Sunday, Nov. 16, at NY Giants, 1 p.m.
Week 12: Sunday, Nov. 23, Washington, 4:25 p.m.
Week 13: Thursday, Nov. 27, Seattle, 8:30 p.m.
Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 7, at Oakland, 4:25 p.m.
Week 15: Sunday, Dec. 14, at Seattle, 4:25 p.m.
Week 16: Saturday, Dec. 20, San Diego, 4:30 p.m.
Week 17: Sunday, Dec. 28, Arizona, 4:25 p.m.
San Francisco has the fourth-toughest schedule in the NFL with an opponents' 2013 winning percentage of .563. The 49ers have seven games against playoff teams from last season. They are 3.5-point favorites on NFL odds for the opener in Dallas.
Clearly the two games to circle first here are against Seattle as it's pretty clear having home-field advantage for a potential playoff matchup is a big deal between those two. The Niners have been slaughtered their past two regular-season trips to the Pacific Northwest but likely gained confidence by playing so well there in the NFC title game. That Week 7 trip to Denver could be a Super Bowl preview. While the Niners have four road games from Week 6-11, including two 10 a.m. Pacific time starts, at least there's a bye mixed in there. And from Week 12 on it's a kind schedule because San Francisco doesn't leave the West Coast.
NFL Free Picks: Under 11 wins on NFL odds. As difficult as the NFC West is, the 49ers may only go 3-3 in the division. That would allow for only one other loss to go over 11 wins. Good luck there with trips to Dallas, Denver, New Orleans and the Giants.