When the San Francisco 49ers open new Levi’s Stadium in 2014 they hope to not only be presenting a new 1.2 billion dollar football palace, but also hope to present their faithful fans with the Lombardi trophy.
After an NFC West title, NFC title, and a loss in Super Bowl XLVII the San Francisco 49ers expectations for the 2013 season are Super Bowl or bust.
Head coach Jim Harbaugh and his San Francisco 49ers are 7:1 favorites to win Super Bowl XLVIII according to Vegas’ Odds, but the path will not be an easy one as the 49ers have the 9th toughest schedule in the NFL this season. Within this tough schedule lies a rival division opponent in the Seattle Seahawks whose stingy defense, behind defensive coordinator Gus Bradley, ranked 1st in points allowed and ranked in the top five in both passing and rushing touchdowns allowed. San Francisco will have to face off against this explosive defense twice which will be no easy task, as Vegas has Seattle also as a 7:1 favorite to win the Super Bowl. The Seattle Seahawks are the favorite to dethrone the NFC champions and are looking to return to the NFC title game.
The 49ers are looking to be the first team since the 1994 Buffalo Bills to return the title game after losing the year before. San Francisco General Manager Trent Baalke knew that returning to the title game meant acquiring more talent which Seattle GM John Schneider knew had to be done to compete with the NFC champs. Both teams were successful this offseason by improving their teams on both sides of the ball and being able to replace some veteran presence lost.
San Francisco’s front office acquired veteran wide receiver Anquan Boldin, along with all-pro caliber cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha, kicker Phil Dawson, and former first round defensive end Glenn Dorsey.
The 49ers revamped their defense even further through the draft by selecting safety Eric Reid(LSU) in the first-round and athletic defensive end Cornellius “Tank” Carradine(FSU) in the second. Reid is coming in and assuming the starting free safety role, but has large shoes to fill by replacing all-pro safety Dashon Goldson who ranked in the top four in all major defensive statistics for the 49ers in 2012. Along with Goldson, receiver Ted Ginn Jr. starting defensive tackle Isaac Sapoaga, and backup tight end Delanie Walker were all key departures for San Francisco this offseason.
The Seahawks revamped this offseason very similarly to the Niners by picking up their own number one caliber receiver in Percy Harvin, and adding some more players to the defense such as former Detroit Lion Cliff Avril and defensive end Michael Bennett. They also picked up a corner of their own with veteran Antoine Winfield who was released by the Minnesota Vikings. New backup quarterback Brady Quinn comes in to replace Matt Flynn after he was traded away to Oakland earlier in the offseason. The departures for Seattle will have less effect on the team than those of San Francisco, as the Seahawks released veteran running back and returner Leon Washington, nose tackle Alan Branch, and contributing defensive lineman Jason Jones. The acquisitions and departures of these pro bowl and contributing players however are not the lead stories for these teams as they head into their pre-season opener.
The starting quarterbacks for these two teams seem to be the focal point of these teams going forward and whether or not they can repeat their outstanding breakthrough seasons. 49ers starter Colin Kaepernick had over 3,200 total yards and 22 total touchdowns in 16 games last year including his three playoff starts, while Seattle’s Russell Wilson had 3,600 total yards and 30 touchdowns in the regular season. Both of these players might soon become the face of their respective franchises and if they continue on their rapid pace there will be nothing between them and the Lombardi trophy, expect each other.
Kaepernick is certainly the exclamation mark on the 49ers offense with an overall quarterback rating of 98.3 and averaging 13.3 yards per pass completion and is currently going through his first NFL training camp as the starting quarterback. Receiving first team reps and having an offensive game plan centered around Kaepernick is only preparing the third year player for an even greater statistical season. One key to Kaepernick’s success and the entire team’s will be Kaepernick’s ability to be an answer to their biggest question, which is the receiving core. Can Colin Kaepernick and the defense make up for what the 49ers may be lacking on the offensive side of the ball?
Wilson will also be the key that makes Seattle’s offense go and coming in with a year of experience and a riding a perfect record of 8-0 in Seattle, Wilson has all arrows pointing up. Wilson threw for 3,118 yards with a 64% completion percentage while throwing 26 touchdowns and only ten interceptions, not to mention also rushing for 489 yards with four rushing scores. Pretty impressive statistics for a third round draft pick who was considered too small by many to play in this league. Seattle GM John Schneider and head coach Pete Carroll knew Wilson had the heart, but no one could have expected the production he would show. Now Russell Wilson, like Kaepernick, will have an offensive scheme planned around him every week this upcoming season.
Schneider went out this offseason and brought in pro bowl receiver Percy Harvin from the Minnesota Vikings for Russell to throw to and have an impact in the return game. Unfortunately for Wilson and Seahawk fans alike, Harvin went out with a partial tear in his hip labrum sidelining him for most, if not all of the year. Seattle will still have number one receiver Sidney Rice, who is yet to perform to expectations, while receivers Golden Tate and Doug Baldwinare set for breakout seasons in Wilsons’s second season.
Tate has doubled his production every year, while Baldwin has eighty catches in two seasons with the team. Starting tight end Zach Miller, has sixty receptions in his two years in Seattle and will be considered a safety valve for Wilson. If Percy Harvin is able to return and have any positive impact this season for the Seahawks their offense is certainly capable enough to be just as explosive as their defense.
The 49ers new acquisition of Anquan Boldin may be in store for a larger statistical season than expected since when news broke of the trade from the Baltimore Ravens. Boldin was more than a quality replacement for the free agency losses of receiver Ted Ginn Jr. and tight end Delanie Walker. At the time of the trade, Boldin was slotted as the second receiver for the 49ers, behind number one Michael Crabtree who led the team in receptions(85), yards(1105), and receiving touchdowns(9) in 2012. Crabtree was set for a breakout year in 2013 before rupturing his Achilles tendon back in May, which may have him sidelined until next season. This injury was a blow to the 49ers who already ranked 31st in the league in pass attempts last season and now have only one receiver healthy in Kyle Williams who has caught a pass from Kaepernick.
Boldin will fill in as the number one receiver with Williams and last years first round pick A.J. Jenkins as second string until Mario Manningham is fully recovered from an ACL injury. One certainty though for Kaepernick will be tight end Vernon Davis who has averaged 12.6 yards per reception in his seven year career in San Francisco. The two also developed great chemistry in the playoffs last season with Davis gaining 254 receiving yards in their three playoff games together. Second round selection Vance McDonaldwill fill Delanie Walker’s role as backup tight end as well as playing some receiver on certain downs.
The offense may struggle at times this season with a thin receiving core, but with the explosiveness and play-making ability that Colin Kaepernick possess he will be able to make those playing around him better.
As for the dominating defenses of both of these teams not many new names were added, but why would they if they were first and second in overall defense last year. The biggest name coming over for San Francisco would be former all-pro corner back Nnamdi Asomugha from the Eagles who just did not get the production out of him that anyone thought they would. Asomugha is slotted behind Tarell Brown, who has started every game the last two season for San Francisco, but can be expected to play in the nickel package or start when needed.
Seattle went ahead and bolstered their defensive line by signing two defensive ends, Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett. Avril is coming over from Detroit where he accumulated 39.5 sacks and 124 tackles in five season with the Lions. He will start at right end, while Bennett, who is coming off a nine sack season in Tampa Bay, will play behind starter Red Bryant. Both players will have an immediate impact in helping lead the Seahawks to a second straight number one defense. Both teams have defenses that will likely be the first two to go in any fantasy league this season as San Francisco and Seattle each have their pro bowl and all-pro players returning.
San Francisco returns all but two starters from their NFC Championship defense and the taste of defeat in Super Bowl XLVII has the 49ers even hungrier to get back to the title game. Upfront the 49ers are packing all-pro defensive end Justin Smith, along with six year starter Ray McDonald on the outside with first year starter Ian Williams listed as the starting nose tackle taking over for Isaac Sopoaga. One of the most explosive players in the league, outside linebacker Aldon Smith, can line up on the end or play outside backer, but which ever position he plays he makes plays and this is known. Smith is coming off a monstrous 19.5 sack season, racking his career total to 33.5 and is entering only his third season in the league. Pair him with all-pro teammates Navorro Bowman and Patrick Willis, who together combined for 181 tackles last season, and that forms one of the leagues most punishing line backing cores.
The 49ers secondary is nothing to mess with either, even with departed all-pro safety Dashon Goldson, pro bowler Donte Whitner and rookie Eric Reid will be manning the safety positions. Starting cornerbacks will be Tarrell Brown and Carlos Rogers along with newly signed Nnamdi Asomugha which will give San Francisco a trio of aggressive corners. This dangerous defense is showing no signs of slowing down barring injury and another year of being one of the leagues best drive stoppers seems to be certain.
The Seattle Seahawks defense, who ranked 4th in yards allowed last season, is returning nine of eleven starters and are prepared for a title run in the NFC West. The Seahawks have had much success in stopping the opponents run game and that has been much credited to their play up front with their defensive line. The additions of Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett to a front line that includes Chris Clemons and Bruce Irvin, who combined for 19.5 sacks, have to keep offensive coordinators thinking twice about running, which this defense ranked third in rushing attempts against in 2012. The youthful linebackers of Seattle, Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright, are both coming off of terrific years and will attempt to be number one and two in tackles on the team for a second straight season. Third year backer Malcolm Smith will step in and replace long-time Seahawk Leroy Hill at weak side linebacker this season. Seattle’s secondary may give the front line a run for their money for most terrifying unit in Seattle. The corner backs are led by all pro Richard Shermanwho tallied eight interceptions, 53 tackles, and a team leading 24 pass deflections last season.
Behind him are pro bowlers Brandon Browner and newly acquired veteran Antoine Winfield who piled up 71 tackles with three interceptions with the Minnesota Vikings last season at the ripe age 36. At safety, the Seahawks pack one of the best one-two punches in the NFL with playmakers Earl Thomas, and former pro bowler Kam Chancellor who was second on the team in tackles with 69. These two safeties are a couple of best playmakers in the league and will only benefit from playing another year with one another. Seattle is hoping to continue their rugged defensive ways in order to make a deep playoff run hopefully dethroning the previous NFC champion San Francisco 49ers.
Along with the outstanding, tough defensive play another certainty for both these teams is their ground and pound style of play, which both are pretty darn good at it. Seattle ranked 1st in the league in rush attempts, San Francisco 7th. Seattle ranked 2nd in rushing yards, San Francisco behind them in 5th. The final ranking, Seattle was 5th in yards per attempt with 4.8 yards, while the 49ers ranked 3rd with 5.1. These rankings are due in large part to both teams ability to block up front and their all-pro running backs. Both teams have running backs in Frank Gore and Marshawn Lynch who are capable of rushing for double-digit touchdowns and 1,500 yards, while each team also possess dual threat quarterbacks who rushed for over 400 yards a piece last season.
San Francisco starter Frank Gore is one of the game’s most reliable backs, having rushed for over 1,000 yards in six of the last seven seasons. However, it is uncertain at how much longer Gore can be expected to rush at this rate as he enters his 9th season with the 49ers. Top backup Kendall Hunter is healing from Achilles surgery and has posted 844 rushing yards in 27 career games, which means second-year running back LaMichael James, who is returning kicks and punts, will have back up duties until Hunter returns. The San Francisco 49ers continue year after year to have one of the best offensive lines allowing Frank Gore to hit his holes and gain large yardage. This year is no different from any other as all pro players Joe Staley and Mike Iupati anchor the left side, with pro bowl caliber right tackle Anthony Davis holding down the right. Colin Kaepernick will definitely benefit from a veteran offensive line, which will add significantly to his dynamic ability to run and throw the ball adding another dimension to the 49ers offense.
For Seattle, Marshawn Lynch was been leading their rushing charge and has been selected to two pro bowls and one all-pro team in his two and half seasons with the team. Lynch will be entering his 7th season and his third full with the Seahawks, he will also be coming off of a career high 315 carriers with a career high 1,590 yards rushing. The 27-year old is in the prime of his career with another huge season for Seattle on the horizon, but expect the carriers to be down some as to save Lynch for the playoffs. With the Seahawks releasing Washington, second string back Robert Turbinwill take any carry not ran by Marshawn or Russell Wilson.
The Seahawks will be running behind an offensive line that led a rushing attack of 2,500 yards last season and his anchored behind first round pick left tackle Russell Okung and center Max Unger. Although this line is not as experienced as San Francisco, each player is solidifying their role and another huge season from Marshawn Lynch or a title game run could give these guys the credit they well deserve.
These two teams seem to be pretty even on paper with many strengths and few weaknesses, young budding superstars, and veteran presences who are willing to lead their team to a Lombardi trophy. The San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks are the two favorites to come out the NFC this season, but what needs to be decided first is who will come out on top in the NFC West. Both teams are known for hard-nosed defense and pounding the ball on the ground, but with the emergence of Colin Kaepernick and Russell Wilson a new quarterback era may be beginning in these two cities. Can the Seattle Seahawks actually dethrone the NFC champion San Francisco 49ers from their reign on top the division and conference? The fans and media will have to wait and see as the two teams meet on September 15 in Seattle and again on December 8 in San Francisco. Seattle is winning the all-time series against San Francisco at 15-14.
Follow on Twitter @StevenBardwell or contact at [email protected]