49ers’ lowered expectations for 2019 is actually a good thing

CHICAGO, IL - DECEMBER 03: Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo #10 of the San Francisco 49ers (left) talks with teammates in the first quarter against the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field on December 3, 2017 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
CHICAGO, IL - DECEMBER 03: Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo #10 of the San Francisco 49ers (left) talks with teammates in the first quarter against the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field on December 3, 2017 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images) /

Much was made last summer of the San Francisco 49ers’ playoff chances. This year, not so much. But could this actually be a good thing for the team going into 2019?

This time last year, the San Francisco 49ers were one of the hot-take, dark horse candidates to make the 2018 NFL playoffs.

They’d just signed quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo to a lucrative contract, and fans and experts alike, having seen the 49ers quarterback in action during the final five games of the 2017 season, were excited to see what head coach Kyle Shanahan could do with Garoppolo at the helm.

Then Week 3 happened, leading not only to a wildly entertaining, but ultimately bad-for-Niners-fans game, but also to the loss of Garoppolo to a devastating ACL tear, ending his season.

And with the quarterback went the Niners’ hopes for a successful 2018 season.

Given where the team finished last year (4-12, with middle-to-low rankings on both offense and defense), and with both Garoppolo and running back Jerick McKinnon recovering from ACL injuries, not to mention the struggles to stop the opposing offense from scoring (49 touchdowns allowed) or to turn the ball over (just seven defensive fumble recoveries and two interceptions), those expectations have been tempered going into this season.

There does seem to be much in the way of consensus, however, and so the 49ers’ 2019 predictions are all over the map.

Bleacher Report had them finishing 8-8 right after the schedule was released, although they note that if the team “can stay healthy, the 49ers are one of the better bets to outperform expectations in 2019.”

ESPN’s Nick Wagoner went with the same 8-8 record, although he noted the “49ers got no favors from the NFL in the early and latter parts of this schedule. San Francisco is slated to play five of its first eight games on the road, and though it will have an early bye in Week 4, it will be needed considering three of its first four trips east.”

Others, like USA Today, which predicted not only records but final game scores for each regular-season game, was even less bullish on the 49ers, predicting the team to finish with a 2018-matching 4-12 record and a minus-53 point differential.

FanSided’s own NFL Spin Zone is looking at a 5-11 record, a pre-draft Niner Noise prediction is set at 9-7The Press Democrat‘s Grant Cohn has them at 6-10, and then there’s NFL.com’s Adam Rank and this (49ers’ starts at 48:20 and ends at 50:20):

To say that the team’s expectations are all over the place seems pretty on target, although there’s less dark-horse, Wild Card playoff-contention talk this year than last.

At this point in the rebuild to contention, however, the argument could be made that the lower expectations are actually a good thing for San Francisco going into 2019.

It’s impossible to say what impact the heightened expectations had on the team last season. But it’s not as though the Niners were lighting the league on fire before Garoppolo went down (a 24-16 loss to the Minnesota Vikings in Week 1; a 30-27 win, albeit a nail bitter, against the Detroit Lions in Week 2; and going down 35-10 at halftime in Kansas City against the Chiefs, before starting a comeback and watching the Garoppolo go down, ending the surge and the season, essentially).

So maybe without the media and other experts predicting for the team to come out of nowhere and surprise the NFL by being one of its better teams, it’s possible the team might actually be able to do that in 2019.

With the outside pressure removed, the team can focus on what’s going on in its building, no worrying about what everyone says they should be doing.

While the tempered expectations aren’t definitely going to lead to more success, it feels likely it will at least help take weight off the team’s shoulders, and allow San Francisco to perform to the best of its ability.

All said, while the 49ers should definitely work to be the best they can and finish the season with as many wins as possible, the media paying more attention to the Cleveland Browns, the Chiefs, the New England Patriots and the Los Angeles Rams would allow the 49ers to sneak themselves into playing important games in December.

Next. San Francisco 49ers: 10 players to watch during 2019 training camp. dark

If nothing else, that has to be the goal for 2019. Otherwise the rebuild will now be at least a year behind schedule, and halfway into the Shanahan and general manager John Lynch era, there might start to be questions about where this team is heading in the years to come.