• Adrien Julienne

Making the Pick: Predictions for the 49ers First Game

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Week 1 of the NFL season is upon us. Fans are back in the stands, your Fantasy Football lineup is set and expectations for the San Francisco 49ers are sky-high. Are you ready?

As the 49ers are set to take on the Detroit Lions at Ford Field, it is always difficult to predict the first game of the season. There will be surprises, unexpected upsets, overreactions but most importantly, football!

Below, we list 7 things we predict will happen in Detroit on Sunday:

Lions will exude confidence and energy

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Anyone who has paid even a little attention to the NFL this offseason should already be familiar with at least two famous quotes from Dan Campbell. Between his coffee-drinking routine and his goal of breaking kneecaps, the Lions’ new head coach has dethroned Jim Tomsula as the main entertainer in head coaching circles.

However, don’t let his press conferences fool you. Dan Campbell worked under the tutelage of Sean Payton for four years as assistant head coach and tight ends coach before Brad Holmes - the Lions’ new general manager by way of the Rams - gave him his first opportunity to coach an NFL team.

Campbell is planning on rolling Payton’s complex – and efficient – offense. The very same offense that scored 46 points against our very own 49ers’ vaunted defense in 2019, even with Drew Brees already on the decline.

Granted, Detroit doesn’t have the Saints’ firepower but although San Francisco is heavily favored to win, this will likely not be a walk in the park. Expect the Lions to come out of the gates fueling on the unmatched energy of their new head coach as they embark on a mission to prove their doubters wrong with the confidence that they can take the favorites by surprise.

49ers’ secondary will be tested

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By all means, the 49ers’ defense looks like one of the scariest units in the NFL. With Bosa and Ford back to full strength, San Francisco boasts one of the deepest defensive lines in the league.

Newly appointed team captain Jimmie Ward will lead a group of safeties that has been rejuvenated with the arrival of Talanoa Hufanga, who seems poised to take over starting duties sooner rather than later, and a healthy Jaquiski Tartt, who is eager to prove his worth in a contract year.

The only concerns revolve around the cornerback position, where San Francisco will likely be missing Emmanuel Moseley while lacking the depth to put a surefire starter on the field opposite Jason Verrett. Underrated K’Waun Williams will reprise his stellar role in the slot and we might see a mix-and-match scenario to fill Moseley’s absence.

Deommodore Lenoir has shown flashes during preseason, while Ambry Thomas struggled at times. Expect the Lions to target any of the rookies as soon as they will be inserted into the game to test their consistency. The 49ers might elect to rely on recent practice squad signee Dontae Johnson’s experience, which is a matchup the Lions might try to exploit with the speed of their wide receiver group.

San Francisco will need to rely on the effectiveness of their pass rush in order to neutralize their secondary woes, which leads us to our next point.

Lions will deploy a quick passing attack

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The Lions will likely not be able to rely on their running game to keep the 49ers’ defensive line on their heels, as San Francisco boasts an elite duo of linebackers in Fred Warner and Dre Greenlaw to cover the second level of the defense.

Moreover, Detroit will be missing their starting left tackle, Taylor Decker, with no other choice than to leave rookie Penei Sewell to the mercy of Nick Bosa, Samson Ebukam, Dee Ford and Arden Key. One thing the Lions could try to do to limit the damage is to use the quick passing game, get the ball out of Jared Goff’s hands quickly, and use the spread offense with three or more WRs to test the 49ers’ secondary depth.

It seems that the 49ers (and most of the NFL) Twittersphere has labeled Jared Goff as a bad quarterback. His unceremonious exodus from the Rams, after Sean McVay all of a sudden seemed devout to frame him as the scapegoat, did not help to bolster his reputation. But except for when he plays against his hometown team, the University of California alumni is a good quarterback and metrics back this up.

After his rookie season, Jared Goff has never had a PFF passing grade under 71.4 and never had a lower completion percentage under 62 percent. Since then, his lowest passing-yards season was in 2017 with 3,804, which is a mark the 49ers have reached only once (in 2019) in the last 21 years (Jeff Garcia in 2000).

While “good guy” Sean McVay continuously gets the credit for all of Goff’s accomplishments, the former first-overall pick has proved he can excel in a spread offense and can hit throws in every area of the field. If he’s able to somehow fix his inaccuracy issues in the face of pressure which has plagued him against the 49ers, then expect the Lions to air the ball out on Sunday.

Shanahan will run the ball. A lot.

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San Francisco has a plethora of options in the backfield the control the clock and exhaust the opposition. Unless things go haywire, Shanahan will likely not reveal too much of this year’s playbook against a lesser opponent in Week 1, electing instead to run a vanilla offense and control the game on the ground.

Expect the 49ers’ elite run-blocking game to be on full display with Trent Williams pancaking defenders like a cook at IHOP, along with Alex Mack, Mike McGlinchey and All-Pro Kyle Juszczyk to open up running lanes for Mostert and Co.

If the defense is able to neutralize the Lions’ offense early and allow San Francisco to jump to an early lead, the 49ers will likely dwindle the clock down by imposing their power over last year’s twenty-fourth ranked defensive line.

49ers’ offense will throw a yellow flag party

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If we’ve learned anything throughout Kyle Shanahan’s tenure so far, it’s that the first games of the season are ugly, especially on the offensive side of the ball.

Since 2017, the 49ers have lost every single opening game save for 2019 (their Super Bowl season) which was still a disjointed outing with turnovers and penalties galore.

Here is a list of every opening game under Shanahan:

  • 2017 Week 1: Panthers 23 – 3 49ers

  • 2018 Week 1: 49ers 16 – 24 Vikings

  • 2019 Week 1: 49ers 31 – 17 Buccaneers (3 turnovers, 2 nullified TDs by penalty, overall flag fest)

  • 2020 Week 1: Cardinals 24 – 20 49ers

San Francisco has had the tendency of making fundamental mistakes, draw drive-killer penalties and just look disconnected in the first few weeks of the season. The causes of this phenomenon are not clear but could be a mix of running such a complex offense, the difficulty for preparation facing a top defense throughout training camp and lack of players’ availability with injuries.

Will this year be any different, especially considering the added complexity of this year’s offense by adding a new QB-rotational component? (This was one of the concerns emitted on 49ersHub in Two-Headed Dragon: The Pros and Cons of Interchanging Jimmy and Trey.)

We’re going to predict it won’t.

Trey Lance will play

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Kyle Shanahan seems hell-bent on playing the third overall pick of the draft in some kind of two-QB system and with Trey Lance fully recovered from a finger injury and participating in practice drills, all signs point to him seeing some playing time on Sunday.

His snaps should be limited as Jimmy Garoppolo will hold onto his starting job for this week at least, but the importance of getting Lance accustomed to seeing NFL action on a regular basis for his development cannot be overstated.

This is especially true considering the lack of pass attempts and games played he’s had so far early in his career. Giving Trey Lance a few looks in a low-pressure environment against a lesser opponent will be beneficial in the long run.

This will also allow Shanahan – who loves to toy around with other teams and media alike - to keep his future opponents guessing and have to prepare to face two very distinct quarterbacks.

Expect the 21-year-old to play on Sunday and not just in the running game.

49ers will win

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San Francisco should attack this week with an appropriate amount of fear and respect for the Detroit Lions. The 49ers are heavily favored and boast more talent across almost every position group in their roster, but Week 1 in the NFL is always full of upsets and surprises and we know how disjointed the team tends to look on opening day.

By playing a physical game and rely on their fundamentals, we expect the 49ers to take care of business on the road and start the season 1-0.

What do you think?


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