Sports leagues are in the business of selling optimism to their customers, i.e. the fans. As someone who writes about sports, it’d make a lot more sense to peddle optimism to those same fans, like when I predicted a year ago that the 49ers would finish 10-6. As it turned out, I was two games off. And in looking at this year’s schedule, I’m tempted to go two games in the other direction this time around compared to their 2014 record of 8-8.
I know, I know — the 49ers haven’t even drafted anyone yet, and some of these opponents don’t seem all that strong for reasons related to past performance, bias, or offseason moves. This is just one man’s gut feel, although I might be overly influenced by a Washington Post article today titled “2015 NFL schedule: San Francisco 49ers have hardest path to playoffs.”
The Hardest Schedules
1. San Francisco 49ers
No one will have a more difficult time than the San Fransisco 49ers, who could be experiencing one of the worst offseasons in NFL history. Coach Jim Harbaugh left for Michigan. Patrick Willis, Chris Borland and potentially Justin Smith are all retiring. Rumors suggest QB Colin Kaepernick may be traded. Wide receiver Michael Crabtree won’t be back. Frank Gore departed after 10 years with the franchise and both starting cornerbacks have moved on. Plus, they have the third toughest schedule based on opponent’s true talent (.519 average) and the toughest after averaging their opponent’s title hopes (5.2 percent).
The Arizona Cardinals have the second-hardest schedule according to WaPo, which stands as a stark reminder that the NFL West is still a bear, and will probably be even more difficult to navigate in 2015 when you look at the amount of defensive talent the Rams have amassed — thanks in large part to Washington’s ridiculously stupid trade for RGIII.
Here’s a game-by-game look at how the 49ers season almost certainly won’t go … predictions are frivolous fun, that’s all. Although I’m guessing some fans won’t have much fun reading these.
Week 1 vs. Minnesota, 7:20 p.m., ESPN
Minnesota has been a mess for much longer than the 49ers have been a mess. Jim Tomsula’s popularity will reach its peak in the days following this game (six days, to be exact).
Result: WIN (1-0)
Week 2 at Pittsburgh, 10 a.m., FOX
The 49ers get the first of their five 10 a.m. East Coast starts against a team that won its division last year and went 6-2 at home. Le’Veon Bell might not play, but it won’t matter.
Result: LOSS (1-1)
Week 3 at at Arizona, 1:05 p.m., FOX
Another road game against a team that went 11-5 last year, and a rivalry game to boot. Fun!
Result: LOSS (1-2)
Week 4 vs. Green Bay, 1:25, FOX
Green Bay keeps getting incrementally better each year, while the 49ers are in a state of flux after this crazy offseason and have yet to create anything resembling a home field advantage.
Result: LOSS (1-3)
Week 5 at Giants, 5:30 p.m., NBC
Unless Odell Beckham Jr. harnesses the power of flight, it’s hard to tell how the Giants won’t be awful again this year.
Result: WIN (2-3)
Week 6, vs. Baltimore, 1:25 p.m., CBS
After what has transpired over the last several seasons, I’m predisposed to consider anything against the Ravens as an immediate loss … except the trade for Anquan Boldin, of course.
Result: LOSS (2-4)
Week 7, vs. Seattle, 5:30 p.m., CBS, NFLN
Oh, great. Another Thursday game against the Seahawks, who are still picking chunks of turkey out of their teeth from the last time they faced.
Result: LOSS (2-5)
Week 8, at St. Louis, 10 a.m., FOX
The Rams actually had a better point differential (-30) than the 49ers (-34) in 2014. They’re on the way up, while the 49ers are not.
Result: LOSS (2-6)
Week 9, vs. Atlanta, 1:05. p.m, FOX
The only way the 49ers screw this up is if they’re out-and-out tanking, or the Falcons remember they used to be good and rise from the ashes.
Result: WIN (3-6)
Week 10, BYE
Result: WIN (3-6)
Week 11, at Seattle, 1:25 p.m., FOX
Result: LOSS (3-7)
Week 12, vs. Arizona, 1:25 p.m., FOX
I’m still not sure how the Cardinals lost to the 49ers in Week 17 at Levi’s Stadium … oh yeah, the Cards turned it over three times, their quarterback was Ryan Lindley, their running backs were Kerwynn Williams and Stepfan Taylor, and Frank Gore gave his fans one last vintage performance. The 49ers probably won’t experience as much good luck this time.
Result: LOSS (3-8)
Week 13, at Chicago, 10 a.m., FOX
Vic Fangio and Ed Donatell got to have their guys practice against Colin Kaepernick for multiple years. Then again, the Bears were awful last year with borderline embarrassing defensive personnel and a quarterback no one likes. This was probably the toughest game to pick on this list.
Result: WIN (4-8)
Week 14, at Cleveland, 10 a.m., FOX
I could see my predicted results of Week 13 and 14 flip-flopping, but it’s hard to have any respect for Cleveland since … well, since they reentered the league.
Result: WIN (5-8)
Week 15, vs. Cincinnati, 5:30 p.m., NBC
In a game that will almost certainly be flexed back to a 1:25 p.m. start once NBC realizes what they’ve done (which will make everyone happy except Cris Collinsworth), the Bengals should win a tight game that no one in the rest of the United States will give one hoot about.
Result: LOSS (5-9)
Week 16, at Detroit, 10 a.m., FOX
The Lions were 7-1 last year at Ford Field, and I don’t think they’ll miss Ndamukong Suh as much as a lot of people think. And if the 49ers head into this game with a shabby record, which I’m obviously predicting, it’ll be tough to get fired up for yet another 10 a.m. start in the Eastern Time Zone.
Result: LOSS (5-10)
Week 17, vs. St. Louis, 1:25 p.m., FOX
Here’s where it’ll get tricky, as by now the 49ers will be set up for a pretty sweet draft pick in 2016, especially if they can get just one more loss …
Result: WIN (6-10)
Yeah, this schedule is giving off a strong 6-10 vibe. But that’s just my opinion of course, and I’ll gladly admit I was wrong if the 49ers finish 8-8 or better in 2015. Let’s see if you get that kind of accountability from the Washington Post.