The 49ers were masters of offensive deception under Kyle Shanahan last season, constantly utilizing pre-snap motion to flummox opposing defenses. The confusion wouldn't end there, with Shanahan often calling different plays out of identical pre-snap alignments to great success.
Cynthia Frelund, an analytics expert with NFL Media, found that the 49ers' offense gained a first down or touchdown "46.8 percent of the times in a drive that they used the same pre-snap look" in 2019. Thanks in no small part to that success, her model projects the 49ers will win the NFC West and have the most wins (10.1) in the conference.
"This strategy is likely to be even more useful early on in this unique 2020 campaign, when defenses are likely to have an advantage over offenses that have yet to play in real, live game situations together," Frelund wrote Monday. "Couple that with the Niners' talented defense, and you can see why my model is so high on San Francisco, especially in a division that is most likely to berth at least two playoff teams."
Frelund's model simulated the season over 1 million times, relying on the decade of NFL seasons for data to spot important factors. One such factor was the use of pre-snap alignments, with Frelund determining that teams which ran multiple plays out of the same look or the same play multiple times on a drive gained first downs or scored TDs 30 percent more often than teams that didn't.
The 49ers didn't have the highest floor (9.1 wins) or ceiling (11.2) in Frelund's simulation, as both of those crowns belonged to the New Orleans Saints. But New Orleans' baseline projection (10) is slightly lower than San Francisco's, and the Saints don't have an offensive threat as consistently projected for success in Frelund's model as the 49ers do.
"George Kittle earns at least seven receiving touchdowns in 69.2 percent of my model's simulations," Frelund wrote. "That's a huge number -- rarely do I see projected percentages in this area over 60 percent, let alone nearly 70."
That's a nice number for Kittle, too. His single-season career high is five TDs.
Frelund's projection is just another example of how the 49ers won't surprise anybody with their success in 2020.
Well, at least as long as Shanahan's offense keeps surprising opponents.