San Francisco 49ers 2023 season preview and predictions
This appeared in the original VSiN NFL Betting Guide released on June 29, 2023.
Zachary Cohen: The San Francisco 49ers suffered a disappointing loss at the hands of the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFC Championship Game last year, but Brock Purdy was physically unable to throw the football in that game — he was dealing with a UCL injury that later needed to be repaired. If the 49ers had a competent signal caller in that game, we might be talking about them a lot differently heading into the season. San Francisco absolutely had the talent to win a Super Bowl in 2022, and there aren’t many teams that are better built to win it all in 2023 on paper.
There’s a little uncertainty at the quarterback position for the 49ers, but what else is new there? Whether it’s Brock Purdy, Sam Darnold or Trey Lance, this San Francisco team has what it takes to be elite offensively. The 49ers were sixth in the league in offensive DVOA last season, and only five teams in the NFL averaged more points per game than them. The only key player that San Francisco lost offensively is Mike McGlinchey, who signed a five-year, $87.5 million contract with the Denver Broncos.
As long as the 49ers’ offensive line doesn’t fall apart with McGlinchey gone, there’s nothing stopping this from being a potent offense in 2023. And truth be told, it’s hard to have a bad offensive line with Trent Williams anchoring the left side. He was PFF’s highest-graded tackle in 2022, marking the third year in a row he earned that distinction.
Christian McCaffrey was a monster after arriving in the Bay Area last year, and he’ll only get better with a full offseason to prepare for life in this offense. Realistically, with McCaffrey, Deebo Samuel and George Kittle around, defenses are going to be spread thin trying to find ways to contain such a talented offense.
Last season, the 49ers had a top-five defense in pass and rush DVOA, and they finished atop the league in overall defensive DVOA. Nick Bosa was an absolute monster for this San Francisco team last year, finishing with 18.5 sacks and a PFF grade of 90.6 (third amongst players at his position). With Bosa up front, Fred Warner manning the middle and a good group of defensive backs, led by corner Charvarius Ward, there’s no reason to believe this 49ers defense won’t be amongst the best in the league again.
San Francisco also brought in Javon Hargrave in the offseason. He should be a great fit along the defensive line this season. And it’ll be interesting to see if their low-cost swing on Clelin Ferrell pays off. He has a lot of talent and could do some damage in a limited role, especially with the talent around him.
No team in the league gave up fewer than the 16.3 points per game the 49ers gave up in 2022. Don’t be surprised if San Francisco leads the league in that regard again in 2023. The 49ers have one of the easiest schedules in the league.
How can you not love the over at 10.5 wins? San Francisco opened the year as a favorite to win 16 of the 17 games on its schedule. The 49ers should cruise through its NFC West games while also handling its business against the rest of the league. Don’t be nervous about the quarterback situation. We have seen time and time again that San Francisco can win no matter who is under center.
This appeared in the Updated VSiN NFL Betting Guide released on August 31, 2023.
Michael Lombardi: All preseason, the Trey Lance news dominated the 49ers conversation. No one discussed the team. They wanted to know who was going to be the second- or third-string quarterback. With Lance riding off to Dallas, we can turn our attention to the 49ers and how good they can be in 2023.
Now that Lance and his guarantees are off the roster, the 49ers will focus on making Nick Bosa one of the highest-paid players on defense. The Niners know they need Bosa at full strength for them to keep Seattle at bay and catch Philadelphia. When the 49ers suffered their injuries last season, we witnessed them losing to a bad Atlanta team and watching Kansas City move the ball up and down the field on their great defense. By the end of October, the 49ers were healthy and didn’t lose another game until Brock Purdy’s elbow gave out.
Their offense will be even better, as wide receiver Deebo Samuel is committed to having his best season, and because their offense centers around multi-positional players who create nightmares for the opposing defensive coordinators. In 2022, the Arizona Cardinals beat the 49ers twice holding them to 27 points in two games. Once Christian McCaffrey arrived, the Cards had no answer for the 49ers’ offense, allowing 76 points in two games. The 49ers moved players around and never demonstrated a tendency because of their ability to move the players into different positions. If healthy, expect the 49ers to be good, but they need Bosa to be great.
Player to Watch: QB Brock Purdy
It’s hard to talk about the 49ers without focusing on Purdy. After undergoing elbow surgery for an injury that arguably cost San Francisco the NFC Championship Game, Purdy was able to come back and reach full strength with a few weeks to spare in the preseason. That allowed him to get some reps under his belt and prove to the 49ers that he can play without any limitations, which led to the 49ers trading Lance to the Cowboys and elevating Sam Darnold to No. 2 on the depth chart. But Purdy’s training camp performance was far from perfect. At one point, Purdy had an alarmingly high interception rate. So, his turnover count will be an interesting thing to keep an eye on early in the year. Darnold rarely made mistakes in camp, so Kyle Shanahan might not hesitate to turn to a guy that was once considered a future star at the position. – Zachary Cohen
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