The San Francisco 49ers have a long road ahead of them if they want to win their first Super Bowl since 1995. Not necessarily because they’re going to face a lot of strong competition — the NFC is rather weak this year — but because they have to win four straight games with 2022's Mr. Irrelevant under center. Leading up to the playoffs, that hasn’t hindered the 49ers though. They’ve won 10 straight games, five of which have come with Purdy as the team’s signal-caller. He has yet to record a single game with fewer than two passing touchdowns, and has a passer rating of 119 since taking over for the injured Jimmy Garoppolo. It’s been a great story, and bettors seem inclined to think it’s something more.
According to OddsChecker US, since Week 18 of the regular season came to a close, the 49ers have seen a staggering 17.7 percent of bets placed on them to win the Super Bowl. What’s even crazier is that, in most cases, these types of numbers indicate great odds for an underappreciated squad, but the 49ers don’t have that problem. They have the third-best odds to win it all (+500), behind only the Kansas City Chiefs (+350) and Buffalo Bills (+400). In fact, the team with the second-most bets to hoist the Lombardi Trophy, the Cincinnati Bengals, has worse odds to win it all (+850). Normally, I’d think bettors would flock to the team that would not only pay out more for winning it all, but was also one win away from doing so just last year.
Is the NFC really that bad that bettors are willing to earn less money for the confidence that comes with supporting the hottest team in the NFC? It seems so, and they do have reason to be confident in SF’s chances. For the year, the 49ers have allowed opponents to score only 16.3 points per game, while scoring 33.5 points per game with Purdy at quarterback. Over a full 17-game season, this equates to 277 points allowed and 570 points for. There is only one team in the Super Bowl Era to allow fewer total points while scoring more: The 2007 New England Patriots, who went 16-0 during the regular season.
However, as I’m sure all of you know, that team didn’t win the Super Bowl. That said, of the seven teams to have scored 500 or more points in a season while allowing fewer than 300, five went on to represent their conference in the Super Bowl (the 1998 Vikings and 2019 Ravens did not). Only two actually won it all — the 1999 Rams and 1994 49ers. By that logic, the odds of the 49ers reaching the Super Bowl should be pretty high, so why is there still a sense of unease in regard to them winning it all?
Purdy is the obvious answer. Despite playing phenomenally well, he is still a seventh-round rookie. Another factor may be the 49ers’ lack of difficult opponents since Purdy came into the fold. Although Purdy did face two playoff teams, he only faced one with a winning record — the Seattle Seahawks. I’ll admit, even as a 49ers fan, this scares me a bit as well. With such an inexperienced man under center, it’s hard to come back if the 49ers fall behind early. Since Purdy took over the starting gig, the 49ers have had only one game where the team was forced to throw the ball more often than they ran it — Week 17 against the Las Vegas Raiders. That was a game the 49ers should’ve dominated. I mean, for goodness sake, the Raiders didn’t even play Derek Carr in that game, yet when push came to shove, Purdy had a difficult time pulling out the win. Who knows? If Tashaun Gipson didn’t make that game-sealing interception in overtime, maybe the 49ers wouldn’t have ended the season on a ten-game win streak.
Yes, Purdy eventually did pull the 10-point comeback, but he should’ve never been in that position. What happens when the 49ers fall behind against an offense like Philadelphia’s or Buffalo’s that doesn’t succumb to pressure and can consistently score even against the best defenses in the NFL? That’s where I’m worried.
Given the problems every other team in the NFC has, I wouldn’t be surprised if the 49ers represented their conference in the Super Bowl, but should they go up against the Chiefs, Bills, or Bengals, I’d have a hard time believing they’d win. They’ve already lost by 21 to the Chiefs this season, and while the 49ers did make the switch at quarterback a few weeks later, and perhaps hadn’t come into form at that point yet, 21 points is still a lot. Yes, Tom Brady and the Bucs beat the New Orleans Saints in the 2020 playoffs after losing 38-3 in the regular season, but Purdy isn’t Brady, despite their low draft statuses.
The 49ers have the talent to win it all. That’s undeniable. However, the quarterback position is and has long been the most important position in football, and quarterbacks making their first career postseason start tend to struggle.
Since the NFL changed its playoff format in 2002, teams with quarterbacks making their first-ever postseason starts have gone 24-46, including an abysmal 1-4 performance last season (Carr, Hurts, Jones, Murray, Burrow). To be fair, the single QB that won, Joe Burrow, reached the Super Bowl, and was one Ja’Marr Chase streak away from winning that game. I expect the 49ers to beat the Seahawks, as they’ve done twice this year already. So with that said, maybe the 49ers have a phenomenal chance after all.