Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

ESPN simulation has 49ers, Trey Lance finishing strong, Seahawks starting 0-9

Sep 6, 2021 at 7:31 AM--

The start of the 2021 NFL season is just days away, and everyone is making last-minute efforts to predict the outcome. That includes ESPN, which ran its annual Football Power Index (FPI) simulation of the entire 285-game schedule 20,000 times to project what will happen.

ESPN used the simulations to predict the win total for each team and give a good idea of who might win Super Bowl 56 at SoFi Stadium in February.

What happens in the NFC West, according to the simulation? The San Francisco 49ers start strong with a 4-1 record, tied for the best among the NFC. The Rams also start 4-1 while the Arizona Cardinals stumble out of the gate with a 1-4 record. The Seattle Seahawks suffer an utter collapse with a winless start.

Seattle still doesn't have a win through Week 9. The Cardinals earn just one more win, sitting at 2-7. The Rams overtake the 49ers, with the former owning a 7-2 record and the latter sitting at 6-2.

Seattle doesn't earn its first win until Week 10, after an 0-9 start.

With the Cardinals and Seahawks out of the hunt, it becomes a close two-team race for the division. ESPN has the 49ers and Rams tied at 8-3 through Week 12, but Los Angeles stumbles, and San Francisco pulls away in the end. The simulation has the 49ers finishing the regular season with a 12-5 record and the No. 2 seed in the NFC playoffs. The Rams finish 9-8, the Cardinals 6-11, and the Seahawks 5-12.

The 49ers' strong finish comes after a quarterback switch, though. Jimmy Garoppolo held onto the starting job through Week 14. However, that marked the team's third consecutive loss (Vikings, Seahawks, and Bengals), prompting head coach Kyle Shanahan to make the switch.

"He went with Lance full-time, and the switch paid dividends instantly," wrote Seth Walder. "The 49ers rattled off four-straight wins to close the season, finished at 12-5 and easily won an NFC West division that turned out to be less competitive than most figured in the preseason. The Niners' 27.7 points scored per game during the regular season were second to only the Bills' average (30.9)."

San Francisco starts the playoffs with a win, with Lance out-dueling fellow rookie Justin Fields and the Chicago Bears in the Wild-card round. The run didn't last, though, as the 49ers lose a home divisional game against the more experienced Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers by a score of 28-23. The Packers go on to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl, where they lose to the Buffalo Bills.

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