2. San Francisco 49ers, Week 4 (Home)
Around this time last year, the football world was gawking over the Oakland Raiders as a sexy Super Bowl contender. The Derek Carr-led squad finished the 2016 campaign 12-4, only to flop last season with a 6-10 record and a third place finish in the AFC West.
There is another team in the Bay Area garnering similar attention heading into this season. Led by the so-called saviour Jimmy Garopolo at quarterback, the San Francisco 49ers are the trendy pick in 2018 to make legitimate noise in the NFC. After a 1-10 start last year, the Niners won five straight games with Garopolo under center to conclude the year.
Recent bias has triggered the San Francisco hype train, but glaring holes arise when diving deeper into their roster. Moreover, the defensive unit enters 2018 with some possible headaches after a inferior performance last season.
The 49ers’ defense finished the 2017 campaign 25th in total defense in the NFL and gave up the 10th most points-per-game with 23.9. San Francisco was 22nd in both passing and rushing defense last season, and snagged just 10 interceptions.
Adding three-time Pro Bowl cornerback Richard Sherman to the secondary is appealing from a marketing standpoint. It is a different story on the gridiron, as the 30-year old defensive back is fresh off a torn Achilles injury and will join a secondary featuring Adrian Colbert, Jaquski Tartt, and Ahkello Witherspoon. A tremendous performance from Rivers is expected in this Week 4 affair.
Linebacker Rueben Foster, and defensive linemen Solomon Thomas and DeForest Buckner could do respectable damage stopping the run and rushing the passer this year. But the remainder of San Francisco’s front seven is void of consistent depth. Whether defensive end Arik Armstead contributes as a starter is still unknown given his re-occuring health issues.
Garopolo’s presence on offense drastically improved the unit’s overall output during his five-game stretch in 2017. The former New England Patriots disciple cultivated a strong chemistry with wide receiver Marquise Goodwin last season. But ‘Jimmy G’s’ sample size was somewhat minuscule and questioning whether he can produce at the same rate in 2018 is reasonable.
Throw in a suspect starting running back in Jerick McKinnon (who is now lost for the season with a torn ACL) with a modest receiving core, and the Niners attack might not dazzle like many are perceiving. A close matchup in Week 4 is not unfathomable, but nonetheless, chalk this up as a win for the Chargers.