Don’t be fooled by the 49ers’ Week 7, 44-23 loss to the Chiefs. San Francisco is good, and they’re only going to get better as the season moves along. Kansas City has rolled over many teams similarly during Patrick Mahomes’ tenure. Remember, there isn’t a Chiefs equivalent in the NFC. The Niners possess the formula to be the most dangerous team no one wants to face heading into the NFC playoffs come January.
Oh, how soon we forget. It was just last year when San Francisco was in the same position. They were 3-4 after seven games following a butt-kicking at home against Indianapolis, 30-18. The 49ers went on to win eight of their last 11 games to close the season at 10-7. They used that momentum and made a run to the NFC Championship game, where they lost to the Rams, 20-17.
This loss to Kansas City is a setback, but the Niners will be fine. Once Elijah Mitchell returns from an MCL sprain (he could return by early November), they’ll have a three-man rotation in the backfield. If there’s one aspect of football Kyle Shanahan loves more than any other, it’s the running game. As the season progresses, newly acquired Christian McCaffrey will become more comfortable in this offense, making them the most dynamic in the NFC.
The 49ers rotation at running back will be great for McCaffrey, who’s been injury prone over the past couple of years. From 2017-2019 McCaffrey didn’t miss one game for the Carolina Panthers. In his last two full seasons as a Panther, McCaffrey only played in 10 of 33 possible regular season games. So, not being forced to carry the entire offensive load in San Francisco should be a huge benefit.
In his first game as a Niner, McCaffrey showed glimpses of what to expect once he’s up to speed in Shanahan’s offense. He played just 22 offensive snaps (28 percent) but rushed for 4.8 yards per carry and had two catches for 24 yards. McCaffrey was traded less than 72 hours before this game kicked off Sunday. It was amazing that he even suited up for this one. This offense could look completely different in a few weeks, with McCaffrey, Mitchell, and Jeff Wilson Jr. running and catching the ball out of the backfield.
San Francisco’s defense took a hit Sunday as they came into the game as one of the better defenses in the NFL and ranked top five in many categories. Although the 49ers did give up a brutal 44 points to Mahomes and the Chiefs, they’re still giving up just 19 points per game on average for the season. That still ranks in the league’s top 10 for points allowed. They gave up 529 yards to the Chiefs and still rank No. 7 in that category and third in average yards allowed per game. San Francisco merely ran into a better team that wears you down with a great offensive scheme, quarterback, and all the ways they can beat a defense.
Luckily, the NFC doesn’t have a team anywhere near the Chiefs or Buffalo Bills, for that matter. The Philadelphia Eagles are the team to watch in the NFC right now, and that’s it. The Giants are playing great, but no one trusts them with Daniel Jones leading the team, and then there’s the Dallas Cowboys. The NFC East has been much better than advertised, but the Eagles are the only real threat to the Niners advancing in the postseason. And they might even be fools gold by the time January rolls around based on their schedule.
So, San Francisco looks like they’ll be in pretty good shape once they get some key guys back from injury and McCaffrey is fully acclimated. They might only win nine games, but that should be enough in the NFC to make the tournament. With so much parity, there could be an 8-9 team to make it in the NFC. Currently, 12 of the 16 NFC teams hold a record of 3-4 or better, and if the Bears beat the Patriots on Monday Night Football, that’ll make 13. The NFC playoff race will undoubtedly come down to a few games in Week 18.
These Niners will be in the thick of that race, and don’t be surprised when they’re “upsetting” your favorite team. I’m looking at you, Eagles. Once Shanahan gets his guys on track, they’ll be the scariest team entering the playoffs. You can count on that.
There’s still that Jimmy Garoppolo issue they’ve had for a while now, but they’ve clearly overcome his shortcomings before, and with the supporting cast around him, they can do it again.