2014 NFL Preview: San Francisco 49ers

2014 NFL Preview: San Francisco 49ers

It’s been a tumultuous 8 months for the San Francisco 49ers. The January defeat to rival Seattle in the NFC title game also cost them All-Pro linebacker NaVorro Bowman, who tore both his ACL and MCL. Then trade rumors involving head coach Jim Harbaugh to Cleveland surfaced. Bad boy Aldon Smith had a “bomb threat” incident at LAX, and faces a 6-8 game suspension for being an all-around idiot. Glenn Dorsey and Kendall Hunter were lost to season-ending training camp injuries. Guard Alex Boone is holding out. Defensive tackles Justin Smith, Ian Williams, and Ray McDonald are all returning from offseason surgeries. Despite the glut of drama, the 49ers remain a favorite to hoist Lombardi next February. Here’s a preview of their 2014 campaign.

Outlook: The development of quarterback Colin Kaepernick will be critical to San Francisco’s success. A healthy and deeper receiving corps should benefit Kaepernick, but his overall accuracy still needs to improve. The defense could struggle early on with two of its best talents likely unavailable until at least late October. With he rest of the NFC West teams seemingly better, the Niners can ill afford taking a step back. Harbaugh’s act may be wearing thin with some players, but his track record is hard to attack.

New arrivals: Wide receiver Stevie Johnson was acquired from Buffalo in a draft day trade. Johnson isn’t elite, but he’s a solid pass catcher with three 1000-yard seasons under his belt and should be a quality complement to Michael Crabtree and Anquan Boldin. Safety Antoine Bethea was a staple in the Colts secondary for eight years and brings veteran leadership to a young group of defensive backs. Brandon Lloyd sat out 2013 and is 33, but he adds insurance should a receiver go down. Second-round pick Carlos Hyde is a bruising runner with quick feet who has the skills to spell Frank Gore. First-round safety Jimmie Ward doesn’t need to play right away, so he has time to learn the position. For some reason, a trade for Blaine Gabbert was executed. Blaine Gabbert is awful.

Wave goodbye: Bethea was signed to replace Donte Whitner, who inked a four-year, $28 million deal with the Browns. Cornerback Eric Wright retired in June and Tarell Brown skipped across the Bay to join the Raiders on a one-year contract. Wide receiver Mario Manningham was a bust for two seasons, so he limped back to the Giants. Backup signal-caller Colt McCoy joined the Redskins; he is far from a world beater, but he’s way better than Gabbert. Longtime center Jonathan Goodwin started 80 straight games, but at 35 was allowed to walk.

Over/Under wins – 10.5: Denver, New Orleans, Philadelphia, Chicago, and Kansas City, plus six against the NFC West? A slide back is very possible. If they survive Smith and Bowman’s absence, they will be fine. That said, a couple of tough losses could be in their future. 10 wins sounds about right. No more.

Bet the Under