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Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

Where the 49ers sit in power rankings for Week 1 of the 2021 season

Chris Wilson
Sep 8, 2021 at 3:17 AM--

As the excitement builds for the kickoff of the NFL regular season, we gain insight into media expectations via the final 2021 preseason power rankings for the San Francisco 49ers.

For the avid NFL football fan, there is perhaps no act so trivial, yet so enjoyable, than participating in an NFL mock draft. I challenge you to identify an activity countless fans engage in for fun despite their realistic expectations of complete and utter failure.

Similar is the process of preseason power rankings, which can be quite entertaining to review at the conclusion of the season -- provided you weren't the one doing the ranking. The glaring difference between the two is power rankings are written with the intention of being correct; but like mock drafts or final roster projections, they never are.

This isn't solely the fault of the "Power Ranker," or in the case of ESPN, its "power panel -- a group of more than 80 writers, editors and TV personalities" tasked with ranking each team throughout the season. A significant injury to a star player or a breakout performance from an unexpected quarterback will cause teams to fly both up and down power ranking boards before they are released for Week 2.

Although a few strayed from common practice, the majority of "Power Rankers" do deserve blame for immediately ruining their efforts by insisting to rank the last two Super Bowl teams as the best two teams in the league, which they weren't in 2020 and won't be in 2021.

Beyond their propensity to promote heated conversations among friends and coworkers surrounding the water cooler, NFL power rankings do hold value, and are far from pointless to create or consume.

In particular, preseason power rankings are extremely useful for gaining insight into NFL-wide hype surrounding a team, the biases of an individual analyst or media institution, and whether John Stamos -- or one of your personal favorite "TV personalities" -- engages in the film review and analysis necessary to form their own opinions, or simply echo the ill-informed viewpoints of the loudest talking heads.

The San Francisco 49ers' initial 2021 power rankings range from No. 5 from Yahoo Sports and No. 6 from CBS Sports, the Sporting News, and ESPN's "Record Prediction Ranking," to No. 10 from ESPN's power panel, as well as Bleacher Report, which receives a well-deserved pass due to its 49ers Webzone shoutout.

ESPN chose to add some complexity to the power ranking process by providing three different power rankings: One subjective set of rankings, perhaps led by Mr. Stamos, and two additional objective rankings, including their Football Power Index (FPI) Ranking -- a project led by respected and innovative sports data scientists such as Brian Burke.

One obvious observation is the ranking discrepancies between Team Stamos and Team Burke within ESPN's multiple power ranking systems. For example, the "power panel" ranked each NFC West team higher than ESPN's FPI model, aside from one team -- the 49ers. Of particular note, the Arizona Cardinals -- led by a coach known for both his smooth confidence and his inability to win football games, and a young over-hyped quarterback still struggling to find his way -- received a "power panel" ranking of No. 13, compared to an FPI ranking of No. 21.

As expected, commentary on the 49ers centered around the team's quarterbacks: Jimmy Garoppolo, old and injury-prone, limited in talent and his future in red and gold, and Trey Lance, the exciting future of the franchise.

Also not surprising, the Cleveland Browns obsession continues to increase in size and strength despite obvious indicators that a regression to the mean is far more likely than a Super Bowl victory for the perrenial celler-dwelling franchise and current media darlings. Quarterback Matt Stafford has also been deemed the alleged answer to all Los Angeles Rams' problems, and is primed to break NFL passing records as the aged veteran will finally take advantage of talented receiving options after years of being held back by wide receivers like Calvin Johnson.

But enough with the snarkiness, let's get to the San Francisco 49ers power rankings!

Below is a overview of where San Francisco currently ranks within some of the more prominent NFL power rankings from around the web, as well as commentary and justification in support of each decision:

49ers Power Rankings

Current Ranking: 9
Previous Ranking: 9
"The training camp QB competition played out like a soapy FOX prime-time show of the '90s, but credit Kyle Shanahan for keeping things from becoming a capital-D Distraction in Santa Clara. Everyone knows Trey Lance will have a role on this team -- Shanahan has said as much -- but the obvious question remains unanswered: When does Lance's role exceed Jimmy Garoppolo's? Shanahan will likely begin the season implementing both QBs in game action (and have some nerdy offensive-genius fun while he does it). Lance's role will blossom in accordance with how many splash plays he can deliver when given the opportunity." — Dan Hanzus

CBS Sports
Current Ranking: 6
Previous Ranking: 6
"No matter who plays quarterback, this is the team I think will win the NFC West. Jimmy Garoppolo will likely start the season, but Trey Lance will get snaps as well. They are healthy again, which is bad news for the rest of the division." — Pete Prisco

ESPN (Power Panel)
Current Ranking: 10
Previous Ranking: 9
Football Power Index Ranking: 8
Record Prediction Ranking: 6
"Person on the hot seat: QB Jimmy Garoppolo.
Breakout candidate: WR Brandon Aiyuk.
Bold prediction: DE Dee Ford will have at least eight sacks.
Trey Lance is the starting quarterback by Week 11." — Nick Wagoner

USA Today
Current Ranking: 9
Previous Ranking: 7
"If you're a West Coast team opening with a pair of 1 p.m. kickoffs in the Eastern time zone, you want them – this year, anyway – in Detroit and Philadelphia." — Nate Davis

Bleacher Report
Current Ranking: 10
Previous Ranking: N/A
"The San Francisco 49ers are apparently adherents of the philosophy that two heads are better than one. Niners head coach Kyle Shanahan used both veteran Jimmy Garoppolo and rookie Trey Lance with the first team in the preseason finale, and both quarterbacks led touchdown drives. Shanahan has yet to announce a Week 1 starter, but he told reporters (via 49ers Webzone) that he hasn't ruled out continuing to use a committee approach at the game's most important position. 'We're working through everything and trying to figure everything out,' he said. 'Seeing what they're good at, what they can help us with on the team, how to balance stuff out, and that's why we are practicing everything. I've never been in a situation where I had a skill set where I had two guys like that you could practice it, and that's what we're finding out.' Frankly, it probably doesn't matter who the quarterback is for the opener against the lowly Lions. Or quite possibly even for Week 2 against the Eagles. But starting in Week 3, things get real: seven straight games against teams who were .500 or better in 2020." — NFL Staff

Yahoo Sports
Current Ranking: 5
Previous Ranking: 6
"Trey Lance is the right pick for quarterback, but the 49ers are playing it safe. That's fine. They have enough around Jimmy Garoppolo to win games early. When Lance gets the job, the 49ers' offense is going to be a lot better." — Frank Schwab

Sporting News
Current Ranking: 6
Previous Ranking: 7
"The 49ers' offense will be one of the league's most balanced and explosive whether it's Jimmy Garoppolo or Trey Lance starting at QB, with the latter adding more dynamic elements in time. The defense was dismantled by injuries last season and did lose Robert Saleh, but there's enough talent led by Nick Bosa and Fred Warner for a big rebound." — Vinnie Iyer
  • Chris Wilson
  • Written by:
    You may have seen Chris Wilson's work on NFL game theory, statistical analysis, and film breakdowns at Minute Media, FanSided, Niner Noise, Insidethe49, LockedonSports, ClutchPoints, and others. Follow Chris on Twitter @cgawilson.
The opinions within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.


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