Most NFL teams that start a season off going 1-10 don’t have Super Bowl aspirations the following year. The San Francisco 49ers are the exception.
Jerick McKinnon isn’t shy to talk about what the San Francisco 49ers want to accomplish this season. He says everyone in the locker room is talking about reaching the Super Bowl. He and his teammates may ultimately be crushed by the weight of their own expectations.
Optimism is understandable considering how the team played after installing Jimmy Garoppolo as their starter last year. The 49ers reeled off five wins in a row to finish the season with Garoppolo at the helm. Of course, that doesn’t mean they’re ready to go 16-0 this season.
That’s what makes McKinnon’s comments about the attitude of the 49ers’ locker room so concerning. His admission that the team’s “eyes are on” the Super Bowl makes it seem that San Francisco is planning on running before they learn to walk. Their chances of making a Super Bowl would be significantly boosted if the team had some actual playoff experience.
McKinnon himself is one of the team’s larger question marks. He was an excellent third down back for the Vikings last season, but the 49ers will be expecting him to carry a heavy load as their feature back. Joseph Williams will get some carries but he’s not talented enough to replace Carlos Hyde in Kyle Shanahan’s backfield.
Running back isn’t the only questionable spot on the 49ers offense. Installing a rookie at right tackle from day one is a big risk as well. Mike McGlinchey is a big time talent, but he’s going to need some time to adjust to NFL pass rushers. In particular, he may struggle to protect Garoppolo early in the season.
The good news is the 49ers defense does look capable of hoisting a Lombardi Trophy. The team, understandably, have high hopes for Richard Sherman’s ability to solidify their secondary. The former Seahawk faces a real challenge in coming back from his Achilles injury, but the unit should still be good even if he doesn’t return to full health. The pass rush has more than enough talent to make up for a few mistakes from the 49ers secondary.
The real challenge for the 49ers this season is to beat quality teams who are expecting a challenging game from them. Part of their success last season was a product of opponents taking them for granted. They won’t have the benefit of sneaking up on anyone this year.
In the end, the 49ers coaching staff needs to make sure their team take this season one game at a time. Making Super Bowl plans in May is a dangerous game for any NFL franchise.