The San Francisco 49ers will hoist the Lombardi Trophy after winning Super Bowl XLIX in 2015. As for the 2013-14 season, expect a Wild Card or Division title playoff entry and quick exit.
As much talent as the 49ers possess, they now play in a better division in a better conference. Jim Harbaugh and his team had their chance last February—and we all know how that turned out. Repeating is extremely difficult, and the Super Bowl Loser’s Curse accurately describes the consistent difficulty teams have the year following a Super Bowl loss.
First things first, the 49ers have struggled through numerous injuries. Michael Crabtree will be out for some time, Chris Culliver, the up-and-coming defensive back, will not put on the pads again this season. Though much less serious, Patrick Willis and Navarro Bowman both have sustained minor injuries that have kept them from practice—and, in Willis’ case, brought him to the surgeon’s table. Linebacker Nick Moody seemed to have dodged a serious knee injury and backup quarterback Colt McCoy similarly appears to be overcoming a shoulder injury just fine. This is all in addition to having two draft choices that will barely see the playing field this season if they see it at all in Tank Carradine, Quinton Dial and Marcus Lattimore. Though Kyle Williams appears to be making a good recovery from an ACL tear last season, fellow wideout Mario Manningham still has not returned. Thus, the receiving corps may resort to a number 2 wideout with a history of sustaining serious injuries (Austin Collie). Translation: the 49ers are bleeding red after bleeding gold (losing Dashon Goldson and others to the highest bidder in free agency).
One could easily look past these injury setbacks and at the additions the 49ers made in the offseason, most notably drafting promising safety Eric Reid and stealing Anquan Boldin from the Baltimore Ravens for a 6th round pick. Unfortunately, our cornerback situation is still rough, with Nnamdi Asomugha underperforming and Carlos Rogers not living up to his paycheck. As for the receiving corps, as good as Boldin can be, he famously will not “take the top off” of defenses, as ESPN so often likes to remind 49er fans. Without Crabtree, and with former 1st round pick A.J. Jenkins struggling—though I believe he is doing better than most are giving him credit for—Colin Kaepernick, as good as he is at making magic happen, will struggle from time to time to move the ball. Hopefully his rapport with Vernon Daviswill continue to improve, but it seems impossible for anyone to replace Crabs in the eyes of Kaep.
All of this said; look for a 10-6 Wild Card team that loses in the Divisional round.
Next season, after signing extensions for Kaepernick, Aldon Smith, hopefully Mike Iupati, the 49ers will be in position to regain Crabtree and Culliver, gain the Tank and Marcus Lattimore and hopefully draft another cornerback or wide receiver—or defensive line, as that group will need some youth soon. Following this, and another year without a world title, I would expect Harbaugh’s men to work with an even more focused mindset.
Do not be surprised if Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman finally gets that elusive head coaching job. He deserves it, as much as the 49ers do not wish to see him go. Don’t be shocked, even, if DC Vic Fangioleaves for the top job somewhere. Harbaugh consistently brings up good coaches, however, so I do not expect these losses to be too detrimental. Even if these coaches leave, San Francisco will continue to develop players and improve. Jenkins will hopefully finally be raring to go, our countless talented running backs don’t even need the help running that Kaepernick can give them—and they, with the exception of Gore, should only get better—and the 49ers will come on Super Bowl Strong in the 2014-15 season, their first playing in a stadium where they hopefully will defend their title in 2016.