4 reasons why 49ers are Super Bowl contenders in 2021

Head coach Kyle Shanahan of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
Head coach Kyle Shanahan of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images) /
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Nick Bosa, Arik Armstead, San Francisco 49ers
San Francisco 49ers defensive end Nick Bosa (97) Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports /

Yes, it’s overly optimistic. But like how the 49ers came out of nowhere in 2019, look for the 2021 squad to be a legitimate Super Bowl contender this season.

Right now, the 2021 San Francisco 49ers are undefeated.

As are the other 31 teams across the league before the regular season kicks off.

Not surprisingly, it’s the time for optimism. And while the Niners have their share of concerns, particularly in the wake of last year’s injury-riddled disappointing finish, there are plenty of other reasons why fans should be excited about this edition of head coach Kyle Shanahan’s squad.

True, FanSided’s Matt Verderame predicted San Francisco would go 10-7 this season and finish with a Wild Card berth before a quick postseason exit at the hands of the Super Bowl champions, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Yet Niner Noise’s own regular-season predictions were far more favorable — we’re a 49ers site after all — with a 13-4 record, which might be good enough to secure the NFC West crown.

Maybe even the No. 1 overall seed in the conference.

But should we consider the Niners a Super Bowl contender?

Why not? They weren’t expected to be in the running in 2019 yet made it to the big game. So, let’s take that kind of approach here and break down four reasons why they’ll be in the hunt in 2021.

No. 4: 49ers pass rush should be 2019-like

In 2019, San Francisco boasted 48 sacks, which was tied for fifth most in the NFL, and the bulk of these came on a four-man pass rush that didn’t have to rely too heavily on blitzing.

Last year, amid a swarm of injuries, that total dropped to a lowly 30, and then-defensive coordinator Robert Saleh was required to up his blitzing efforts a lot.

First-year defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans’ job will be made a lot easier if he can rely more on that same four-man pass rush, which is now counting upon healthy returns from his two star pass-rushers, Nick Bosa and Dee Ford, who missed almost the entirety of 2020 with serious injuries.

Those two players’ presence affords Ryans to play defensive end Arik Armstead more on the interior, where the majority of his team-high 10 sacks came from in 2019. And if Bosa and Ford remain fully healthy over the duration of 2021, second-year defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw should have a much easier path towards a big sophomore leap, too.

The 49ers defense has a lot of question marks, yes. But if the defensive line reverts back to its 2019 level of play, getting a top-10 performing unit wouldn’t be too far out of the question.