Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

Cynthia Frelund projects 49ers to return to playoffs as NFC West champions

May 13, 2021 at 12:31 PM--

The 2020 season was a disappointing disaster for the San Francisco 49ers. The team endured an injury-plagued campaign and limped its way through most of the schedule, finishing with just six wins and a last-place ranking within the NFC West.

The 49ers were able to re-sign a lot of their own players this offseason. That, combined with the return of several players from injuries and a solid draft, is creating some optimism in Santa Clara. San Francisco could be looking at a quick turnaround. After all, it was just 15 months ago that the team was playing in the Super Bowl.

Following the release of the 2021 NFL schedule, NFL Network analyst Cynthia Frelund used the projected 53-man roster for each team, and her data-driven simulations, to predict each team's win total and the NFC playoff picture.

Frelund simulated the entire 272-game regular season 50,000 times to acquire her projection results, and the 49ers finished with an average of 10.3 wins, which is good enough to win the NFC West.

Only two NFC squads owned a higher projected average win total. The Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers led the NFL with 12.2 wins, thanks in part to owning the No. 29 ranked schedule when it comes to difficulty.

The Green Bay Packers came in at No. 2 in the NFC with 10.4 wins. Of course, Frelund notes that this is assuming Aaron Rodgers remains with the team. The win total could plummet without the future Hall of Fame quarterback.

Frelund wrote the following about the third-place 49ers:

"The fact that veteran Jimmy Garoppolo and No. 3 overall pick Trey Lance both project as strong scheme fits drives a return to prominence for the 49ers (the fourth-place schedule helps, too). Should Lance take over the starting job by Week 1, the first two games forecast to be favorable in terms of the rookie being able to learn the ropes (especially behind San Francisco's stout offensive line). Both are away games, but they're in Detroit (which is in the running to finish last in the conference) and then in Philadelphia (which is forecasted to finish with fewer than six wins). Note that this projection reflects eight-plus starts for Lance this season."

Below is Frelund's projected playoff seeding within the NFC. It includes three of the four NFC West teams. Frelund has the Seattle Seahawks finishing last within the division after winning it last season.

  1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (12.2 wins, NFC South champions)
  2. Green Bay Packers (10.4, NFC North champions)
  3. San Francisco 49ers (10.3, NFC West champions)
  4. Washington Football Team (9.2, NFC East champions)
  5. Arizona Cardinals (9.2, Wild Card)
  6. Dallas Cowboys (9.0, Wild Card)
  7. Los Angeles Rams (8.8, Wild Card)

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