The 49ers have been unlucky. The Raiders, two years removed from a 12-win season, appear to be in full-blown rebuild mode, while the Cardinals, Giants and Bills are working through various stages of the quarterback life cycle, from growing pains of a rookie, to an old quarterback who won’t shuffle off the field for good, to no quarterback at all.
But the 49ers had a plan. It’s been exactly a year since they traded for Jimmy Garoppolo, and it’s been 11 months since Garoppolo made his first start in San Francisco. When it was over, the 49ers were 5-0 with him under center and went from a one-win outfit to a 6-10 team that people suddenly expected a lot from in 2018. That lasted three weeks. Garoppolo tore his ACL in a loss to the Chiefs that dropped the 49ers to 1-2, and five weeks later the losing continues unabated.
And this came weeks after San Francisco lost its biggest offseason acquisition, running back Jerick McKinnon, who was supposed to be the chess piece in Kyle Shanahan’s offense that makes everything else work. Matt Breida has been good in McKinnon’s place but he’s not an explosive player; meanwhile, tight end George Kittle is the most consistent downfield threat in this offense, one that is now led by C.J. Beathard. Taken together, it’s not hard to imagine how this team arrived at 1-7 and ranks near the bottom in offense, defense and even special teams.
And there’s no indication things will magically improve anytime soon; San Francisco faces the seventh-toughest schedule over the final two months of the season, according to Football Outsiders, and their win expectancy this season is 3.8. And while not officially eliminated, their chances of making the playoffs might as well be zero. Where they are the front runners, however, is in the race for the No. 1 pick in the 2019 NFL Draft. Heading into Week 9, the 49ers had an 81.7 percent chance at a top-5 pick, according to FO, and a 32.6 percent chance at the top selection.
They’re followed by the Cardinals (74.0 percent for a top-5; 14.1 percent for No. 1), the Bills (68.9 percent; 13.7 percent), the Raiders (66.9 percent; 17.1 percent), and the Giants (61.9 percent; 14.5 percent).
Of that group, only the Raiders and Cardinals have tougher schedules but the models still give the 49ers the best chance at last place.
So that’s the silver lining for San Francisco — you can check out our most recent mock draft to see some of the names San Francisco could target. As for Thursday night’s matchup against the Raiders, just know this: The two teams are a combined 2-13 which, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, is the worst combined winning percentage in a primetime game played in Week 8 or later since the 1970 merger.
(Note: In the table below, the teams are sorted from “most likely to have the No. 1 pick in the 2019 NFL Draft” to “least likely” using two different methods. The “Current record” column does what the name suggests: Teams are first sorted by their ’18 records, strength of schedule, via Tankathon. The other column is sorted by the “SportsLine’s preseason projected draft order.” Finally, here’s our most recent 2019 NFL mock draft if you’d like to see who we have each team taking.)
SportsLine preseason projected draft order
New York Giants (1-7)
San Francisco (1-7)
New York Jets (3-5)
Oakland (via Cowboys)* (3-4)
Tampa Bay (3-4)
Green Bay (3-3-1)
Chicago (to Oakland)** (4-3)
Los Angeles Chargers (5-2)
New England (6-2)
New Orleans (to Green Bay) (6-1)***
Kansas City (7-1)
Los Angeles Rams (8-0)
* Dallas sent its 2019 first-round pick to Oakland as part of the Amari Cooper trade.
** Chicago sent its 2019 first-round pick to Oakland as part of the Khalil Mack trade.
*** New Orleans sent its 2019 first-round pick to Green Bay to draft Marcus Davenport in 2018.
Oakland at San Francisco
The Raiders lost again last Sunday, this time to the resurgent Colts, but they looked better while doing so. Specifically, Derek Carr had a strong outing, completing 75 percent of his throws for three touchdowns and no turnovers. The 49ers, meanwhile, lost to the hapless Cardinals. So can Oakland build off last week’s improved play or are these teams equally terrible and the outcome is basically a coin flip? (We’re not kidding, by the way; Football Outsiders ranks the Raiders 29th in team efficiency and the 49ers are 30th, ahead of only the Cardinals and Bills.)
Chicago at Buffalo
The Bears’ offense can be hard to watch because Mitchell Trubisky is so maddeningly inconsistent from one snap to the next. But compared to what the Bills’ offense perpetrates against the game of football on a weekly basis, Trubisky looks like Aaron Rodgers. These are two of the league’s best defenses so the question becomes: Who’s likely to make fewer mistakes: Trubisky or Nathan Peterman, who will start in place of a concussed Derek Anderson?
Kansas City at Cleveland
It’s hard to envision a situation where the Chiefs lose this game. What would have to happen? Alien abduction? Chiefs don’t show up till halftime? The Browns are allowed to play 15 guys at a time? The league forces Hue Jackson to coach the Chiefs? You get the idea. The Browns canned Jackson and offensive coordinator Todd Haley following last Sunday’s loss to the Steelers. Defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, who is currently winning Game of Thrones, Cleveland edition, was named interim coach. The Chiefs, meanwhile, have been taking care of business on the field, thanks in large part to Patrick Mahomes’ MVP-type season. Maybe the Browns’ defense puts up a good fight early but since they’re likely to spend much of the afternoon on the field because Cleveland’s offense has been so bad, expect them to tire down the stretch and for Kansas City to earn win No. 8.
N.Y. Jets at Miami
Brock Osweiler has started the last three games for the Dolphins and he could make it four this Sunday; it’s still unclear if Ryan Tannehill, who is battling a shoulder injury, will be ready. The Dolphins won the Week 2 matchup in New York, 20-12, and on paper they’re the better team; according to Football Outsiders they’re 11th in efficiency while the Jets are 20th. And while both teams have similarly efficient defenses, New York’s offense has struggled. That’s not really a surprise given that rookie Sam Darnold has eight career starts, but the Jets need a win to get back to .500 while the Dolphins (4-4) can stay within sight of the Patriots (6-2) with a victory.
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