Sergio Estrada-USA TODAY Sports

Sergio Estrada-USA TODAY Sports

USA Today predicts 49ers to win NFC West with this record

Jul 23, 2021 at 8:02 AM--

Nate Davis of USA TODAY released his annual NFL predictions this week, and San Francisco 49ers fans might wonder how the national reporter feels the league's toughest division, the NFC West, will pan out.

San Francisco is coming off a disappointing injury-plagued six-win campaign. It was the third losing season in head coach Kyle Shanahan's four years with the team, and the 49ers hope 2020, not their 2019 campaign that ended with a Super Bowl appearance, is the aberration.

Most expect the 49ers to be much improved in 2021, assuming the team can stay relatively healthy. San Francisco had to navigate 2020 without many of its stars, including pass rusher Nick Bosa, tight end George Kittle, and quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo. All are expected to return and San Francisco bolstered the quarterback room and planned for the future by drafting Trey Lance with the No. 3 overall pick.

Davis has San Francisco finishing with an 11-6 record, which is good enough to win the NFC West and earn the third seed in the playoffs. The writer has the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Green Bay Packers as the only NFC teams finishing with better records. Of course, that last one is very dependent on what transpires with Aaron Rodgers.

"Given how tightly packed their division appears, playing five games against last-place teams from 2020 should confer quite an advantage to the Niners, who open at Detroit and Philadelphia," wrote Davis. "And it sure won't hurt to have TE George Kittle, DE Nick Bosa, RB Raheem Mostert, WR Deebo Samuel, and, presumably, QB Jimmy Garoppolo back in the lineup for a team one year removed from a 13-3 season that ended in the Super Bowl. Worth noting, though, that coach Kyle Shanahan is breaking in two new coordinators."

Mike McDaniel was named the offensive coordinator, Shanahan's first. Although, the play-calling duties will remain with the head coach. On the defensive side of the football, DeMeco Ryans replaces Robert Saleh, who became the head coach of the New York Jets.

If Davis' predictions come to fruition, the 49ers won't be the only NFC West representation in postseason play. He envisions the Los Angeles Rams and the Seattle Seahawks continuing past Week 18, earning winning regular-season records.

Davis sees the 49ers' playoff run ending just short of another Super Bowl berth. He has San Francisco beating the Minnesota Vikings in the Wild Card round and then the Packers in the Divisional round before falling to the Buccaneers in the NFC Championship Game.

His Super Bowl 56 prediction: the Buccaneers over the Cleveland Browns.

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