49ers

Five bold predictions for 2021 49ers, including playoff fate

49ers
Trey Lance, Jimmy Garoppolo

The NFL did what it does Thursday night, giving us a high-drama opener between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Dallas Cowboys that saw Tom Brady engineer a game-winning drive to give the defending Super Bowl champions a season-opening win.

From this point forward, almost all of the "Thursday Night Football" games will look like something my dog coughed up, but at least we got this one.

The rest of the NFL kicks off Sunday, with the Baltimore Ravens and Raiders capping off Week 1 with a duel on the strip in Las Vegas on "Monday Night Football."

After an injury-ravaged season in 2020, the 49ers enter the 2021 season mostly healthy and with their eyes locked on a return to the Super Bowl. That quest starts Sunday when the 49ers visit the Lions in Detroit.

All the preseason talk revolved around the 49ers' quarterback situation. Rookie signal-caller Trey Lance gave Jimmy Garoppolo a run for his money, but the veteran authored his best summer as a 49er and did what was necessary to keep the job. But how long will it last? And where does this 49ers season end?

Glad you ask. Here are my five bold predictions for the 49ers 2021 campaign.

Jimmy G never loses hold of starting job

Trey Lance is going to get snaps. That much we know. But the starting job will remain Garoppolo's throughout the 2021 season.

If Garoppolo learned one thing as Brady's understudy, it's how to keep the man who is supposed to take your job on the bench. Knowing this likely is his last season in the Bay, Garoppolo takes his game to another level knowing it's an audition for his next team.

 

Lance shows flashes when gets on the field, but Garoppolo takes care of the football and doesn't give Shanahan a reason to pull the rip chord on the veteran quarterback.

Garoppolo starts all 17 regular-season games and plays well, but it isn't enough to win the NFC West because ...

49ers earn No. 5 seed as Rams go 13-4

The Matt Stafford experiment goes swimmingly down in Inglewood. The Rams open with a 35-17 beatdown of Andy Dalton and the Chicago Bears with Stafford throwing for 370 yards and four touchdowns in the romp.

From there, Sean McVay turns the passing game loose as Stafford averages 42 passes per game and throws for 40 touchdowns while finishing second in the MVP voting behind Brady, the ageless GOAT.

But while the Rams steamroll over almost everyone in their path, the 49ers are a different story.

The 49ers hold Stafford and the Rams in check during their first meeting at Levi's Stadium, sacking the veteran quarterback five times and picking him off twice in a 28-20 win. But the Rams get their revenge with the division on the line in Week 17 as Stafford hits Cooper Kupp for an 11-yard touchdown with 13 seconds remaining to give the Rams a 27-24 win.

With the loss, the 49ers finish at 12-5 and head to the NFC Wild Card Round to face the Washington Football Team.

NFC West gets four playoff teams

The 49ers aren't the only NFC West team playing on Wild Card Weekend.

While San Francisco (12-5) travels to Washington to face the NFC East champion Football Team. The Arizona Cardinals (10-7) visit the Green Bay Packers, and the Seattle Seahawks, who finished last in the division at 9-8, head to LA to face the Rams.

The NFC West's unprecedented playoff feat comes as a result of a down year in the other three divisions. The Dallas Cowboys enter December with a chance to win the division, but go 1-5 after that point, including two losses to the Football Team and one to the Cardinals, to finish the season at 8-9.

In the NFC South, Sean Payton's Jameis Winston experiment goes well, but the Saints lose four one-score games and finish also at 8-9. As for the NFC North, well, no one challenges the Packers as Kirk Cousins and the Vikings finish 7-10.

George Kittle breaks his own record; Bosa wins DPOY

In 2018, George Kittle set the NFL record for most receiving yards by a tight end at 1,377. But Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce wrestled that record away from Kittle in 2020 with 1,416 yards.

But Kittle gets that record back this season.

After missing significant time in 2020 with multiple injuries, Kittle tears the league apart in 2021. As Garoppolo's favorite target, Kittle catches 113 passes for 1,490 yards and 10 touchdowns.

On the other side of the football, Nick Bosa's return is a welcome sight to the 49ers' defense. Bosa missed all but one game in 2020 after tearing his ACL in Week 2 against the Jets.

 

He picks up right where he left off, proving to be an elite defensive player that is destined to become the first non-QB to sign a contract that pays him $30 million per season.

Bosa notches 15.5 sacks and wins DPOY and Comeback Player of the Year honors. After accepting his awards, he walks off the stage and flashes the money sign to the camera, a signal that John Lynch needs to be ready to open the checkbook.

The 49ers do that in the offseason, inking Bosa to a massive extension that makes him the new highest-paid defensive player in football.

RELATED: Bosa headlines five 49ers to watch vs. Lions

 

49ers come up short in NFC title game vs. Bucs

The 49ers easily dispatch the Football Team in the Wild Card Round, while the Seahawks upset the Rams and the Packers handle the Cardinals with ease.

Garoppolo and Co. head to Lambeau Field for the NFC Divisional Round and survive a thriller as Bosa strips Aaron Rodgers with 1:13 remaining and Fred Warner recovers to seal a 24-20 win.

Down in Tampa Bay, the Bucs have no problem with the Seahawks, picking off Russell Wilson three times and winning 27-17.

That sets up a showdown at Raymond James Stadium between Brady and Garoppolo. The two exchange pleasantries at midfield and then the fireworks begin.

Brady and Garoppolo trade blows all game. Garoppolo is nearly flawless, throwing for 295 yards and three touchdowns. But with the game tied at 24 and the 49ers going in to score, Brandon Aiyuk fumbles in the red zone and the Bucs recover the ball with under three minutes to play.

Brady does the rest, driving 86 yards and hitting Rob Gronkowski for the game-winning touchdown with 41 seconds remaining.

Brady and the Bucs go onto repeat as champions, becoming the first team to do so since the 2003-04 New England Patriots. After beating the darling Cleveland Browns in the Super Bowl, Brady, once again bathing in confetti, announces he plans to play until he is 50.

Garoppolo's 49ers tenure ends with him completing 71.3 percent of his passes for 4,135 yards, 31 touchdowns and just nine interceptions. With the 49ers set to hand the keys to Lance in 2022, the 49ers trade Garoppolo to the Houston Texans for a second-round pick and the rights to the mind-control device Texans GM Jack Easterby has used for his meteoric rise up the NFL ranks.

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