Factors the 49ers Have to Avoid the NFC Championship Curse

If you look at the NFL since 2000, you see a huge dynamic with teams in the AFC and the NFC. The AFC has sent the Patriots, Steelers, Colts, Broncos, and Ravens a combined total of 18 times (out of 20-the other two teams being the Raiders and Chiefs. 7 out of 16 AFC teams in other words. The NFC? Only the Lions (never have been), Vikings (1976) Redskins (1991), and Cowboys (1995) have not made it onto Super Bowl Sunday since the new millennium. Meaning 12 out of 16 teams have seen a Super Bowl appearance.

If we narrow it down to the past 6 years, 6 different teams in the NFC (Seahawks, Panthers, Falcons, Eagles, Rams, and 49ers) have played in the Super Bowl to only 3 (Patriots, Broncos, Chiefs). Granted we can really take away it has been the Patriots Era in this time period which may alter the numbers, but even the teams mentioned, there has been a consistency in places like Denver, Pittsburgh, and Baltimore to keep those teams competitive in this time period.

But turning to the NFC a bit, the last 5 teams to make the Super Bowl prior to the San Francisco 49ers have often fallen off compared to the year before. The Seahawks have been for the most part the most consistent of the bunch, seeing the playoffs 5 of the last 6 years and making it in the divisional round 4 of those 5 times (but not to the NFC Championship). The Panthers have missed the playoffs 3 of the 4 years since their Super Bowl and were bounced out in the Wild Card round. The Falcons made the playoffs the year after their run and made it to the Divisional round but haven’t made it back. The Eagles have made the playoffs each year but nothing close to dominant in their Super Bowl run. The Rams failed to make the playoffs the year after.

Oddly, Seattle aside, the teams represented somewhat came out of nowhere as they were either an under .500 team the year before (Panthers & 49ers), failed to make the playoffs (Falcons, Eagles) or was inept in their playoff appearance (Rams).

The 49ers won the NFC last year and for three quarters were rolling in the Super Bowl. Then imploded in dramatic fashion. A game like that often when you were expected to win leaves a huge scar for the franchise.

So what do the 49ers do to move forward?

First and foremost, they have to put it behind them. But it is easier said than done. The Panthers while they didn’t blow a lead n the Super Bowl had many people tout them to roll over Denver with MVP Cam Newton. Instead the Broncos frustrated Cam and the Panthers lost. Cam’s attitude and behavior after that game changed Carolina’s dynamic the next season. Atlanta’s Super Bowl story is well written and I honestly think it’s a ghost on the Falcons shoulder to this day, which is why they haven’t gotten back to that level despite all that talent they have. The Rams haven’t recovered, notably on the offensive side. So first step is a big step and that is to forget.

So what are the factors that really will decide if San Francisco moves forward in 2020?

Is Shanahan going to learn from his mistakes after another Super Bowl collapse?

KYLE SHANAHAN: Shanahan’s connection with one of the other NFC teams has been linked and back in the forefront as he was the offensive coordinator for the Falcons. Many in Atlanta blame him for his offensive strategy late in the Super Bowl and allowing the Patriots to get the ball back more often than they should. Shanahan in the prior 3 quarters did what got the 49ers to the Super Bowl and that was run the ball and effectively with Raheem Mostert and finding ways to get the ball to Deebo Samuel. 4th quarter comes? Shanahan goes into pass mode. Shanahan calls passing plays and also taking it out of Mostert’s hands. Up 20-17 with six minutes left, Mostert gets a 5 yard gain to star the drive. Then two incomplete passes later a punt. Then Kansas City scores in no time and that was really it. So in two Super Bowls where Shanahan was the coach or coordinator, the 4th quarters he has scored no points while the opponents have scored 40. Now the question begs, will Shanahan really learn from these games? If he does, then San Francisco should be fine moving forward. If he doesn’t, people will wonder if he is that guy to get the 49ers to tie for that 6th Lombardi Trophy with New England and Pittsburgh and it will haunt the 49ers.

Garoppolo couldn’t make the needed plays in the 4th quarter against the Chiefs in the Super Bowl

JIMMY GAROPPOLO: Garoppolo’s story is an interesting one with him supposedly being Tom Brady’s heir apparent in New England. Obviously it didn’t pan out like that and Garoppolo was shipped to the 49ers where he did well when he arrived and then 2018 happened and was injured. He came back in 2019 and played more than admirably as the starting QB. However, it seemed like he was transformed into a game manager especially in the playoffs against the Vikings and Packers and passed when absolutely needed. It worked against Minnesota and Green Bay. In the Super Bowl, maybe Shanahan wanted to show Jimmy G was a true franchise quarterback and opened it up when he thought it was the best time to do so, but Garoppolo didn’t step up in this case. Of course, unfounded rumors after the Super Bowl had the 49ers exiting Garoppolo for Tom Brady which was a bit insane but he is also under the scope of having to be a guy that when needed can win with his arm. It will help he will have Deebo Samuel who is becoming a star in his own right and still has one of the best tight ends in the game in George Kittle. They lost Emmanuel Sanders to New Orleans and will be replaced by Travis Benjamin while he has a strong receiving back in Tevin Coleman. So he has weapons. But if the 49ers have to rely on his arm and he doesn’t get the needed results, then questions are abound in the Bay with Jimmy G.

If Kinlaw is a force like he was at South Carolina, SF is going to be more deadly up front

JAVON KINLAW: Kinlaw to me was a sleeper in this NFL Draft. He can be a force in the middle of that line that features Nick Bosa and Arik Armstead. But he is also replacing DeForest Buckner who played out of his mind in January and again in the Super Bowl. Not an easy task. If Kinlaw comes close to Buckner’s play, the 49ers don’t miss a beat at all up front. And that is huge given the 49ers have to deal with Murray and Wilson 4 times this season (not to mention Aaron Rodgers & Dak Prescott while still seeing Drew Brees).

Oct 7, 2019; Santa Clara, CA, USA; San Francisco 49ers cornerback Richard Sherman (25) encourages the crowd before a play against the Cleveland Browns in the second quarter at Levi’s Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

RICHARD SHERMAN: I’ve been a big Richard Sherman fan since his days in Seattle. I like his attitude and how he has played. However, Sherman has been often thrown under the scope because, well, Richard Sherman. He had an amazing year in 2019 with the 49ers. But he’s 32 years old and he’s not the same defender as he was in Seattle. He is definitely a good corner, but last year’s playoff run even really in the NFC Championship Game when he got burned by Davante Adams and then again in the Super Bowl by Sammy Watkins and missed a key tackle late on Damien Williams. The good news with Sherman is if he ever gets beat or anything he is one that shrugs it off and continues playing his game. But if age continues to show and given he will see the likes of DeAndre Hopkins twice, Michael Thomas, Amari Cooper, and Adams it may be a tough situation out there which means that defensive line needs to fly faster to get to those quarterbacks.

Seahawks/49ers games often decide who is going to win the division

NFC WEST: This is one where the 49ers cannot control. We know Seattle figures to be in contention for the division crown. Because, Seattle. The Rams nobody will know what happens with them (could be very good or very bad) and the team many are thinking sleeper is Arizona. Kyler Murray showed promise and now he has a major target in Hopkins while Kenyan Drake changed the whole dynamic after being traded from Miami and the Cards revamped their linebacking corps of DeVondre Campbell, Devon Kennard, and Isaiah Simmons. If those teams are super competitive the 49ers really need to take care of business.

I don’t know if San Francisco repeats 2019 again of getting back to the Super Bowl. A loss like that in the big game is hard to come back over. Questions will have to be answered this season that will decide the 49ers fate in 2020. But if they have the right answers, they can end the string of a different team each year.

-Fan in the Obstructed Seat

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The Obstructed NFC West Preview

Much like the PAC-12 Conference in college football, the NFC West somewhat has that “forgotten” feel to the NFL.  When the division isn’t entirely great, people really tune out as the 4:00 games are somewhat of a “no mas” type for the typical football fan as they watched a large portion of the 1:00 NFL games on Sundays.  And then we get Arizona vs. Seattle or something to that.  While a few years back that was entertainment between the Cardinals and Seahawks, it doesn’t have that same vibe now.

A debate can be made as the NFC West could be the weakest of the NFC Divisions.  Seattle looks to be trending down (and yes I think they will trend down big time), Arizona is somewhat in a rebuild phase.  But then the Rams and 49ers look to make some noise.  Los Angeles re-tooled in getting star players in the off-season while San Francisco hopes to build off their run at the end of the year where they beat three playoff teams down the stretch (in a row).  So if the NFC West is weak, at least the top half may provide some must-see TV in 2018.  Onto the preview.

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(1) SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS

LAST SEASON: 6-10, 4TH PLACE

KEY ADDITIONS: RB-Jerick McKinnon (FA-Minnesota), RB-Alfred Morris (FA-Dallas), G-Jonathan Cooper (FA-Dallas), C-Weston Richburg (FA-New York Giants), DT-Cedric Thornton (FA-Buffalo), CB-Richard Sherman (FA-Seattle), P-Jeff Locke (FA-Detroit), T-Mike McGlinchey (Draft-Notre Dame), WR-Dante Pettis (Draft-Washington), LB-Fred Warner (Draft-BYU), S-Tavarius Moore (Draft-Southern Mississippi)

KEY LOSSES: C-Daniel Kilgore (Trade-Miami) T-Trent Brown (Trade-New England), RB-Carlos Hyde (FA-Cleveland), TE-Logan Paulsen (FA-Atlanta), G-Brandon Fusco (FA-Atlanta), DE-Tank Carradine (FA-Chicago), LB-Elvis Dumervil (FA), S-Eric Reid (FA), CB-Dontae Johnson (FA-Seattle)

I admit, I’m buying into the 49ers Bandwagon with Kyle Shanahan and Jimmy Garoppolo.  Sue me.  But also, while seeing Carlos Hyde leave was a shocker, I think Jerick McKinnon was more suited in what Shanahan wants to run in San Francisco.  Garoppolo’s winning streak in San Francisco, say what you want, was no joke.  While the Niners look to have the quarterback and the running back in place, questions will be if Garoppolo has a receiver to throw at and yes, he has Marquise Goodwin.  I kinda think the days of Pierre Garcon as a #2 receiver are over so there are questions on that side but they have an underrated tight end in George Kittle. He will be missing the remainder of the pre-season but he should be healthy enough to start week 1.  So I think the Niners have a quality offense, though may not be tops, but strong enough.  The key issue for San Francisco will be on defense and to see if they make strides.  They weren’t terrible last year, but they weren’t the teams we saw Jim Harbaugh have with having the likes of Patrick Willis, Aldon Smith, and others.  But there are pieces such as Solomon Thomas and others like DeForest Buckner.  The 49ers added former nemesis Richard Sherman from Seattle in the off-season, so it brings hope that San Francisco will improve.  However, at this point, Sherman may be better off as a safety given his skills have gone backwards over the last few years in Seattle.  But still, the 49ers defense should improve.  KEY QUESTION:  Was Garoppolo’s run a fluke last year?  I don’t think so.  I don’t know if he will put up the big numbers, but he will find ways to win games.  MY PREDICTION: 12-4  I think the 49ers just have a favorable schedule and they will take advantage of it to be in the mix of a first round bye.  

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(2) LOS ANGELES RAMS

LAST SEASON: 11-5, 1ST PLACE (LOST TO ATLANTA IN WILD CARD ROUND)

KEY ADDITIONS: WR-Brandin Cooks (Trade-New England), DT-Ndamukong Suh (FA-Miami), DE-Ryan Davis (FA-Buffalo), CB-Marcus Peters (Trade-Kansas City), CB-Aquib Talib (Trade-Denver), CB-Sam Shields (FA-Green Bay), T-Joseph Noteboom (Draft-TCU)

KEY LOSSES: WR-Tavon Austin (Trade-Dallas), WR-Sammy Watkins (FA-Kansas City), TE-Derek Carrier (FA-Oakland), LB-Connor Barwin (FA-New York Giants), CB-Trumaine Johnson (FA-New York Jets), DE-Robert Quinn (Trade-Miami), LB-Alec Ogletree (Trade-New York Giants) DT-Tyrunn Walker (FA-Buffalo)

“Those who do not learn from history…”  The Rams came off a great season last year thanks in part to an MVP caliber year from running back Todd Gurley and then defensive player of the year Aaron Donald while Jared Goff made huge strides and won the NFC West.  They lost in the Wild Card so they went out and got Marcus Peters from Kansas City, Brandin Cooks from New England, and Ndamukong Suh from Miami.  Everything went great until Aaron Donald held out.  And currently he is still holding out.  But what was talked about was the Rams created something close to a “SuperTeam” with these guys.  Ehh…we saw that the Eagles tried to do it back in 2011 and that completely backfired on them.  Now with or without Donald, the Rams defense under Wade Phillips should be near the top of the league given his schemes and plays so to think Los Angeles will be completely reeling from Donald’s holdout is pretty silly.  Yes, they will take a hit assuming he doesn’t suit up by Week 1, but it’s still a good defense.  I’m more concerned i on the Rams offense and if Jared Goff can play his game like he did last year.  In the Falcons game he didn’t look all that great and struggled agianst a good defense.  However, if he builds off the season he had last year, he will be considered as an MVP candidate as the Rams SHOULD be in the mix of a first round bye.  But I don’t think he will make as many strides, but he should still be at the very least solid.  The Rams however will have their fates decided if Todd Gurley keeps his running at a top notch level and at an MVP level.  If he can, this team is the Super Bowl sleeper in the NFC.  KEY QUESTION: Will Aaron Donald play in Week 1?  Honestly I believe so.  I think the Rams will give him his money.  And it’s rightfully deserved if you ask me.  MY PREDICTION: 10-6.  Rams will have a good balanced attack, but I’m not 100% sold on Goff being that guy.

NFL: Arizona Cardinals at Indianapolis Colts

(3) ARIZONA CARDINALS

LAST SEASON: 8-8, 3RD PLACE

KEY ADDITIONS: QB-Sam Bradford (FA-Minnesota), QB-Mike Glennon (FA-Chicago), FB-Derrick Coleman (FA-Atlanta), WR-Brice Butler (FA-Dallas), G-Justin Pugh (FA-New York Giants), T-Andre Smith (FA-Cincinnati), DE-Benson Mayowa (FA-Dallas), CB-Budda Baker (Trade-Cleveland) CB-Bene Benwikere (FA-Dallas), QB-Josh Rosen (Draft-UCLA), WR-Christian Kirk (Draft-Texas A&M), C-Mason Cole (Draft-Michigan),

KEY LOSSES: QB-Carson Palmer (Retired), T-Jared Veldheer (Trade-Denver), QB-Blaine Gabbert (FA-Tennessee), QB-Drew Stanton (FA-Cleveland), QB-Matt Barkley (FA-Cincinnati), RB-Adrian Peterson (FA), RB-Kerwynn Williams (FA-Kansas City), WR-John Brown (FA-Baltimore), WR-Jaron Brown (FA-Seattle), DE-Frostee Rucker (FA-Oakland), LB-Karlos Dansby (FA), CB-Tyrann Mathieu (FA-Houston), CB-Tramon Williams (FA-Green Bay), CB-Justin Bethel (FA-Atlanta)

To be fair, the Cardinals probably overachieved last season as the team was somewhat patchwork especially after David Johnson was lost early on in the season.  He’s a great back, but it just has that rebuilding vibe in Arizona with Carson Palmer out (as well as Drew Stanton) and Josh Rosen in (as well as Sam Bradford).  Whether or not Rosen is the starter in Week 1 remains to be seen but there isn’t a feel that Rosen will just take the league by storm.  He is an emotional quarterback.  When he plays great, he is zeroed in and focused.  But when he isn’t, he’s somewhat of a combustible guy and that to me is a big problem for a rookie.  Adding on, the roster has a lot of turnover from last year and when you have that much turnover on a team in the NFL it does create problems.  Which stinks because the Cardinals have one of the best running backs in the game and probably the best corner in the game in Patrick Peterson.  But there will be some hiccups along the way for Arizona as I really don’t see them being a major threat in the NFC West.  KEY QUESTION:  Is Josh Rosen ready?  Absolutely not.  People call him arrogant a la Baker Mayfield, but Mayfield found ways to win games.  Rosen last year didn’t and you do have to wonder if there is a durability issue.  I just think he is more of a guy that would alienate his teammates more than rally them.  Just my humble opinion.  MY PREDICTION: 5-11.  Arizona has far too many questions on both sides to even be considered a threat.  

Seahawks

(4) SEATTLE SEAHAWKS

LAST SEASON: 9-7, 2ND PLACE

KEY ADDITIONS: WR-Jaron Brown (FA-Arizona), WR-Brandon Marshall (FA-New York Giants), TE-Ed Dickson (FA-Carolina), G-DJ Fluker (FA-New York Giants), K-Sebastian Janikowski (FA-Oakland), P-Jason Myers (FA-Jacksonville), LB-Barkevious Mingo (FA-Indianapolis), CB-Dontae Johnson (FA-San Francisco), RB-Rashad Penny (Draft-San Diego State), DE-Rasheem Green (Draft-USC),

KEY LOSSES: DE-Michael Bennett (Trade-Philadelphia), RB-Eddie Lacy (FA), RB-Thomas Rawls (FA-New York Jets), WR-Paul Richardson (FA-Washington), TE-Jimmy Graham (FA-Green Bay), TE-Luke Wilson (FA-Detroit), T-Luke Joeckel (FA), T-Oday Aboushi (FA-Oakland), T-Matt Tobin (FA-New England), K-Blair Walsh (FA), DE-Sheldon Richardson (FA-Minnesota), CB-Richard Sherman (FA-San Francisco), S-Kam Chancellor (retired)

Don’t.  Just don’t.  I don’t want to hear the outcry if you’re a Seahawks fan of why I have Seattle dead last and having one of the worst records in football.  The draft for Seattle the last few years has been a disaster (Malik McDowell?) and so far not many are getting pumped on the idea of Rashaad Penny in the first round.  The offensive line is still a mess which means Russell Wilson will run for his life and try to do too much like he did at times last year.  While most of the unhappy campers are gone, Seattle still has an unhappy Earl Thomas and from what it sounds like there are still others who are unhappy and have “tuned out” coach Pete Carroll.  The running game is a major question mark and has been since the Super Bowl.  So if you think Penny, Chris Carson and others will help out and then bringing in the talented but controversial Brandon Marshall at receiver will solve all ills, then you have far too much faith in the offense, delusional, or just back in time to the 2012-2015 seasons.  I don’t see Seattle being much and if Russell Wilson gets hurt at any point, that’s the season right there and he will take more hits again this year.  So it may be a long year in the Emerald City.  KEY QUESTION:  IF Seattle has a porous record, would the Seahawks consider firing Carroll?  Yes.  I get he won a Super Bowl, but if the Seahawks crash and burn this year, it will be because the players have partly tuned him out with all the rah-rah bit.  It worked with a young Legion of Boom squad and yes they are a young group, but you have players who are there that are key players that will just blow it off like whatever.  MY PREDICTION: 3-13.  I don’t see Wilson making it through a full season either.  

That’s it for the NFC West.  One more to go!

-Fan in the Obstructed Seat

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