The 49ers were the best team in the NFC last season, and they had a pretty good offseason.
So they should be No. 1 or No. 2 in any preseason NFL power rankings, right?
Not quite, according to NBC Sports NFL analyst Peter King.
In King's latest Football Morning in America column, he ranked the 49ers at No. 4 behind the Kansas City Chiefs (No. 1), Baltimore Ravens (No. 2) and New Orleans Saints (No. 3).
King loved what 49ers general manager John Lynch was able to do this offseason.
"There isn’t a team that responded to its problems better than the Niners this offseason," King wrote. "San Francisco needed a left tackle after Joe Staley’s April retirement; GM John Lynch went out and got Pro Bowl left tackle Trent Williams, cheap. Knowing that he couldn’t pay all his top defensive frontmen, Lynch dealt DeForest Buckner for the 13th pick in the draft—and used that pick on South Carolina DT Javon Kinlaw. And needing a long-term receiver threat, the Niners traded up in the first round for Arizona State wideout Brandon Aiyuk."
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While it's perfectly reasonable to put the Chiefs and Ravens ahead of the 49ers, ranking the Saints in front of them is a point of contention.
But King highlighted two areas that could be issues for the 49ers.
"The one long-term position Lynch needs to attack is the secondary—and not because of the late collapse against the Chiefs in the Super Bowl," King said. "Richard Sherman is 32, and greatness for a corner at 32 cannot be assumed. But a deep defensive front will help any issues defensive coordinator Robert Saleh has in the back end."
Despite a 21-5 record as a starter in the NFL and helping guide the 49ers to Super Bowl LIV, quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo has been criticized quite a bit this offseason. Whether or not it's deserved is a debate for another day. But King believes Garoppolo is the main reason the 49ers are behind the Saints on his ranking.
"The 49ers have an excellent chance to stay atop the tough NFC West, though a Lombardi Trophy will come only with more consistency from Jimmy Garoppolo," King wrote. "His 75.9 rating in the playoffs, while not coming out of nowhere, was more noticeable because of how coach Kyle Shanahan play-called in January after Garoppolo threw an ugly interception against the Vikings. In the Niners’ last six quarters before the Super Bowl, Garoppolo threw 14 passes and the Niners ran it 72 times. That might have happened in the Bob Griese Miami days, but man, was it noticeable in today’s football.
"The 49ers belittled the media for making a big deal of it, and every Niner player has pit-bulled questions about Garoppolo since, but come on. His two picks and missed deep ball to Emmanuel Sanders in the fourth quarter only exacerbated the issue. The only one who can do anything about this is cool Jimmy G, and I think all the badgering will push him to be better. But we haven’t seen it yet. That’s why the Saints are 3 and Niners 4 in this totally scientific rating of the teams."
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Yes, the Saints are good, and they signed Emmanuel Sanders away from the 49ers, but that talented team has come up short in the playoffs the last few years (a couple questionable calls didn't help). Shanahan's crew is now battle tested, and they will be hungry to avenge the bitter Super Bowl defeat.
The 49ers and Saints will meet again in New Orleans on Nov. 15. That Week 10 matchup should go a long way to determining which team is the best in the NFC, and possibly even the NFL.
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