As soon as the 2018 schedule came out, the win-loss predictions started pouring in. I wanted to wait until after the NFL draft, since it can drastically impact the makeup of a team. For instance, if one were making predictions for the Ravens, Colts or Broncos pre- and post-draft, they’d likely differ with the additions they made.
I felt the 49ers could be categorized similarly since they were a 1-10 team prior to Jimmy Garoppolo making his first start.
After evaluating the draft haul, and getting an idea of what they want their final 53 to look like this season—and considering the other drafts and updated rosters around the league—I then took a stab at the 49ers' 2018 season outcome. Here's a game-by-game look.
* Star indicates prime time
Week 1: at Vikings (0-1)
Minnesota is one of the elite teams in football. And even without new addition Mike Hughes, they had the defense to hand Jimmy Garoppolo his very first NFL loss. So, if we're going to give the 49ers an L, this would be one of the games. Also expect an aggressive Kirk Cousins. It'll be his debut in front of the home crowd, with former coach and advocate Kyle Shanahan on the opposite sideline — and the QB has a slew of receivers, as well as Dalvin Cook to challenge San Francisco with balance.
Week 2: vs. Lions (1-1)
Matthew Stafford is a good but exploitable quarterback. He throws it around the yard, sometimes with reckless abandon, which potentially sets this up to be the arrival game for Richard Sherman and the 49ers' young, but up-and-coming secondary. Detroit also has a patchy defense, which Shanahan should be able to fool more than once. While the Lions added Frank Ragnow and Tyrell Crosby to their OL, and Kerryon Johnson to their backfield, they still can't be considered the favorites in this game.
Week 3: at Chiefs (1-2)
The K.C. offense was scary before . . . But now with Pat Mahomes under center, and Sammy Watkins in the mix with Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce, the 49ers will have all they can handle. They get a little help with the transition of the Kansas City defense, which included significant losses of Marcus Peters, Tamba Hali and Derrick Johnson — but at the same time, the Niners may not have their nucleus, Reuben Foster, and it could be the difference in a potentially high-scoring game.
Week 4: at Chargers (1-3)
This was one of the games I felt was swayed by the draft. The Chargers had the steal of the first round, adding Derwin James at No. 17 overall to a secondary that already featured Casey Heyward, Desmond King and Jason Verrett. They were also cooking up front with Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram, and just added USC pass rusher Uchenna Nwosu to the group. This defense could be out of control. I think the Bolts sneak up on and get the better of Jimmy G down in L.A.
Week 5: vs. Cardinals (2-3)
It's hard to tell which way this one goes since it could be one of Sam Bradford or rookie Josh Rosen starting. But even with the best of either, plus a healed David Johnson and a forever young Larry Fitzgerald, Arizona still has one of the more flimsy rosters right now. Their once-vaunted secondary has fallen off, even before the departure of Tyrann Mathieu, and they haven't been the same on the line since Calais Campbell left for Jacksonville. This game is the 49ers' to lose.
Week 6: at Packers* (3-3)
Aaron Rodgers doesn't lose a lot of games, but he's lost four of his last five head to heads with the 49ers, including one at Lambeau Field. And the last game he won, the All-Pro passer only tossed one touchdown in a 17-3 victory over Jim Tomsula's squad. Overall I like the way the 49ers match up against the Packers, especially with Sherman running the secondary now. It's also early enough in the year where weather isn't going to be a huge factor. Jimmy G over A-Rod on Monday Night Football.
Week 7: vs. Rams* (3-4)
I see the Niners splitting with the Rams in 2018. But I sense they'll each be fired up in front of each other's home crowds, starting with the Rams in Santa Clara. It'll still be the first half of the season, too, so the Rams and their No. 1 scoring offense from last year will be relatively fresh. I think Goff and Gurley lead L.A. to an upset over the 49ers on prime time, but Kyle Shanahan and Robert Saleh get some valuable film out of it.
Week 8: at Cardinals (4-4)
The 49ers go 2-0 against Arizona this year, as the Cardinals not only have a roster in flux, but also a change in leadership. Two-time NFL Coach of the Year Bruce Arians retired, and first-timer Steve Wilks stepped in. The team could also be in the midst of a QB controversy by Week 8. With this setting up to be a year of growing pains for the Cards, this seems like a winnable game for the Niners on the road.
Week 9: vs. Raiders* (5-4)
The Raiders late in the draft added a couple of first-round talents in Michigan DT Maurice Hurst and LSU EDGE Arden Key, which will help Khalil Mack and this long struggling Oakland front seven. However, it's unclear if their offense got much better this offseason, and what this secondary will look like by midseason. The Raiders need a lot to work out for them. At this point, the 49ers should be in a better place. I see them defending home field on prime time in the a highly-anticipated Battle of the Bay, getting them over .500 for the first time in the season.
Week 10: vs. Giants* (6-4)
The 49ers' first win and only non-Garoppolo win in 2017 came against the Giants at Levi's. They host Big Blue for a second year in a row, this time with newcomer Saquon Barkley joining Evan Engram, Sterling Shepard and Odell Beckham Jr. on offense. Still, Eli Manning has been shaky as of late, and there's no guarantee he'll be the 2015 Pro Bowl version of himself. It's closer this time around, but I think the 49ers will have the better coached team and the one with better QB and defensive play.
Week 11: Bye
Week 12: at Buccaneers (7-4)
The Bucs notably added Vita Vea and Ronald Jones, but this game will feature the wildest quarterback around against arguably the most cerebral cornerback in the league. And with that rebuilding Tampa offensive line, DeForest Buckner and Solomon Thomas might have themselves a game, or at least be in Jameis Winston's face, forcing some errant throws and a potential turnover or two (interception, sack/fumble). The 49ers' ability to affect the QB is the story of the game, and helps carry them to a win at Raymond James Stadium.
Week 13: at Seahawks* (8-4)
The 49ers continue their road trip into Seattle for Sherman's homecoming and a Sunday Night Football special. It'll be 25's first game against his former team, so emotions should be running high, especially if Sherm embraces the smack talk. Roster wise, the 49ers at this point are far more put together. Given the turnover on Seattle's D, it shouldn't be as daunting a task to score as it once was; and they will have Sherman's intel on Russell Wilson and the offense. The 49ers get their first win at Century Link since Christmas Eve 2011.
Week 14: vs. Broncos (8-5)
Von Miller and Bradley Chubb vs. Joe Staley and Mike McGlinchey is arguably the premier matchup to highlight in this late-season battle. Two Pro Bowlers and two rookie top-10 picks locking horns in the trenches could be the deciding factor in this game. I think the Broncos had one of the best and most balanced drafts this year, adding Courtland Sutton, Royce Freeman, Isaac Yiadom, Josey Jewell and DaeSean Hamilton, in addition to Chubb. Assuming Case Keenum picks up where he left off, the 49ers cough one up at home and see their five-game win streak snapped.
Week 15: vs. Seahawks (9-5)
Seattle isn't going to perform any better on the road than it did a few weeks prior. Their roster has been disintegrating the further they get away from the McCloughan draft years, and they're no longer seen as invincible. The 49ers put the hurt on 'em and sweep a non-contending Seahawks team in 2018, officially signaling a shift in the NFC West.
Week 16: vs. Bears (9-6)
Don't overlook Chicago. They have a competent offensive coach in place, a talented young quarterback, and they loaded up this offseason, having a killer free agency and draft from the looks of it. They should be a completely different team in 2018, and maybe a contender in a tough NFC North division. With the aid of Roquan Smith, Leonard Floyd, Kyle Fuller, Eddie Jackson and a Vic Fangio coached defense, and a step up from Mitchell Trubisky, the playoff hungry Bears are able to steal one at Levi's.
Week 17: at Rams (10-6)
This is a potential playoff preview, and it's possible the 49ers need this win more than the Rams do. Whether or not the Rams sit starters again in Week 17, we don't know. But either way, San Francisco should be more desperate and it could equate to a crucial win on the road that gets them back into the postseason for the first time since the Jim Harbaugh era.
Media courtesy Sports Illustrated, Getty Images, AP Images, San Francisco 49ers