Power ranking 49ers opponents: Nos. 14-11
The Panthers are pretty much a mess right now.
After trading for former Jets’ QB Sam Darnold prior to last season (and then immediately guaranteeing his fifth-year option), Carolina went on to feature three different signal-callers, including recently ousted former MVP Cam Newton, who returned after one solid season in New England before losing his job to rookie Mac Jones.
Darnold wasn’t very good in 2021, completing just 60 percet of his passes for 2,527 yards along with nine touchdowns and 13 interceptions en route to the team’s 4-7 record in his starts. Newton wasn’t any better, as his 55 percent completion percentage for 684 yards with four touchdowns and five picks in five starts (and eight total games) helped the Panthers win exactly zero games.
Darnold and P.J. are the only remaining quarterbacks on the roster. And while the Panthers made a push for now-Cleveland Browns star quarterback Deshaun Watson, they were recently informed they were out of the running, leaving the team uncertain, yet again, at the game’s most important position.
They do pick early in the 2022 NFL Draft, but there isn’t really a bona fide starter among the potential rookie quarterbacks, meaning the team will be lacking consistency at the position yet again.
Sure, they still have running back Christian McCaffery, but he’s been banged up too much over the last few seasons to be counted upon. And while the defense has good pieces that could keep them in games, this team can only go as far as the offense does, and at the moment, they don’t seem to be in a good place heading into the season.
This ranking could have changed, as supposedly the Falcons were one of the finalists for Deshaun Watson.
With Watson opting for the Browns, though, this Falcons team is going to continue to be bad in 2022, especially because the courting of Watson will make things rocky between the organization and its current quarterback, longtime starter Matt Ryan.
Add to that a lack of offensive weapons, exacerbated by Calvin Ridley’s year-long suspension for gambling on his own team, and there isn’t much in the way of high hopes for the 2022 Falcons.
Sure, they have 2021 first-round NFL Draft pick Kyle Pitts, but the 49ers did a pretty good job keeping the rookie in check during their 31-13 win over Atlanta in Week 15 at Levi’s in 2021. And given the rest of the team at this juncture, it’s hard to imagine the Niners not being able to focus all their attention on Pitts in 2022.
The only reason they’re higher than Carolina at this point is the quarterback situation. Ryan isn’t spectacular, but he’s solid and has shown himself to be good enough when the scheme or weapons around him are good. 2022 isn’t looking like one of those years.
The Bears are different from most the other teams near the bottom of this list: They know who their quarterback is going to be for the next few years.
At times during the 49ers’ visit to Soldier Field on Halloween in 2021, it was very clear how good Justin Fields was. Just think of this run late in the game, which tied the contest at 23 before the 49ers pulled away to win 33-23.
Fields looks to have all the makings of a solid quarterback in this league, but the Bears offseason has been bizarre to say the least.
They traded star pass-rusher Khalil Mack to the Chargers (more on them later) and allowed wide receiver Allen Robinson to walk in free agency and sign with the defending Super Bowl champs. And while the defense still has good pieces, losing Mack isn’t likely to make them better in 2022, nor is the lack of a clear No. 1 pass-catching option for Fields.
Maybe the plan is to use the draft to build the team, but the Bears only have six picks with none in the first round, and no fourth- or seventh-round selections either.
Fields’ upside gets them pushed above the Panthers and Falcons for now, but if they don’t hit on some quality draft picks or bolster their offensive playmakers around the quarterback, it might not be a great season in Chicago.
There’s an argument to be made that this Seahawks team, currently slated to start Drew Lock at quarterback in 2022, should be lower.
But as a division opponent, they get a slight benefit of the doubt, because you know the game is going to be a slog no matter who is playing opposite each other.
The Seahawks offensive skill position players are actually pretty good, with wide receivers D.K. Metcalf and Tyler Lockett slotted in along with tight end Noah Fant, who came over from Denver in the trade for Russell Wilson, and a decent cadre of running backs.
But the quarterback situation (Lock, Geno Smith and Jacob Eason, yikes) is probably one of the worst in the NFL right now. Meaning it doesn’t matter how good Metcalf, Lockett, and Fant are if they don’t have someone to get them the ball.
And of course the vaunted Seattle defense is in a free fall, with the final nail in that coffin coming with the release of linebacker Bobby Wagner, the last remaining member of the defense that won the franchise its only Super Bowl.
Barring a massive upgrade at the QB position, this Seattle team could end up being among the worst in the NFL in 2022.