Are you ready to put your emotions through yet another potentially heartbreaking NFL season? We hope so, because it’s already upon us. If you’re a Niners fan, you’re probably still a little sore from the way last season ended. 2020 was supposed to be the Niners year at long last.
It should have been the year the team’s long wait for the Super Bowl finally came to an end. Instead, it ended in the bitter disappointment of coming so close, and yet being so far away. At the risk of opening up old wounds, we have to state the obvious. The Kansas City Chiefs walked off with the prize. The Niners finished as runners-up, and the history books never remember the runners-up.
If you’ve been watching the sport for a while, you’ll know that ‘Super Bowl hangover’ is a very real thing. For reasons that us mere mortals struggle to comprehend, the team that wins the Super Bowl almost never performs well the next year. That’s why those very few teams who’ve managed to pull off back-to-back Super Bowl wins are lauded as being among the best in history.
Even with their domination of the past decade, the New England Patriots have been unable to win back-to-back trophies, and the infamous hangover has been pointed to as the reason why. Andy Reid has already been asked several times whether he believes the Chiefs will suffer an extreme bout of Super Bowl hangover, but it’s just as big a question for the Niners. Not only do the winners of the Super Bowl generally struggle to repeat their achievement, but the losers often fall short of making it the next time around, too.
We don’t think that has to be the case for the Niners this year. When we examine the reasons why teams often struggle to repeat their greatest achievements, it often comes down to complacency or poor planning. They stick too closely with the team that brought them the Lombardi Trophy, or they change too much at once.
Looking at what’s been done in terms of trades and changes around the Niners, everything seems sensible. Joe Staley might have gone, but Trent Williams has come in to replace him with a point to prove and has already struck up a good partnership and understanding with Nick Bosa. The seemingly odd-couple partnership is a promising one and arguably offers more strength in their respective departments than the Niners ended last year with.
You could also make a compelling argument that the reason the Niners fell short last year was nothing to do with coaching decisions or players not performing to the best of their ability. It might have had far more to do with injuries and fitness. Injuries do more to sports teams than deprive them of key players at key points in the season; they also impact consistency. When players are constantly coming in and out of the team, partnerships are interrupted, and form becomes difficult to sustain.
Although we may not have realized it at the time, last season was a miserable one for the Niners when it came to people getting hurt. Staley and Mike McGlinchey barely featured at all. Marquise Goodman’s season ended early, as did Jalen Hurd’s, Ronald Blair’s, and Weston Richburg’s. Kwon Alexander was barely back from an extended time in the doctor’s office before the playoffs arrived, and it felt like Jimmie Ward and Dee Ford were missing more often than they were present, too. Had they all been there at the same time, things may have been very different.
While other teams may have been far more active at the negotiating table and in drafts and trades, the Niners appear to have made sensible acquisitions. Javon Kinlaw and Brandon Aiyuk were first-round picks, and all reports say they were worthy of that billing. Everyone spoke favorably of their training camp performances, and they’re believed to have gelled well with the rest of the squad.
Aside from them, the roster is largely unchanged. Consistency is just as important as change, as we said earlier, and only three teams in all of the NFL have made fewer changes to their 2019 roster than the Niners. Players haven’t been cast aside for coming close and missing out; the squad has been kept together and improved in a few key areas. That’s a promising sign when it comes to trying to go one better than they did at the last time of asking.
Putting aside the rest of the roster for a second, the most important player that the Niners have at their disposal is Jimmy Garoppolo. Looking at the presence he has on the field, it’s sometimes easy to forget that he has a sum total of one season’s worth of experience as a starting quarterback. This will be his second season, and he’ll have applied everything he learned last year to his game.
Perhaps more importantly than that, he’s no longer wearing a knee brace. Having had his knee surgically rebuilt during 2018 after a disastrous cruciate knee ligament injury – one that might have ended the career of another player – Garoppolo is looking much more comfortable. So long as he can remain injury-free, a physically stronger and mentally sharper Garappolo is a threat to any team the Niners comes up against.
As the season’s grand finale, the Super Bowl is sometimes described as the richest prize in the sport, but that makes it sound like a chip on a gaming table. If it were a gambling game, it would be more like online slots. There are far too many factors in play to make an accurate prediction about how an online slots game might turn out. Put yourself in front of a football-themed online slots game like ‘Gridiron Glory,’ and you have to keep your eye on the number of reels in play, the return-to-player rate, whether you have any features activated, and how large your stake is.
Those factors, along with the stunning, complicated mathematics that drives all online slots games, are what determine your eventual success or failure. The sport of football is no less complicated and no less dramatic. Even though it looks like the Niners have all the right pieces in play to win the Super Bowl, it doesn’t mean they necessarily will. There are too many things that can go wrong, and so many things that have to go right.
Even with that said, we believe there’s cause to be optimistic. If you’re a Niners fan, it’s time to stop basking in last year’s sorrow and pick your chin up again – there’s another season to watch, and another trophy to be won. Someone’s got to do it – so why not the San Franciso 49ers?