The Gold Rush: 2015 49ers Preview
By BLS Columnist, Justin Goldman
Hello, fellow Gold Rushers. After a brief summer sabbatical in which the Giants fell out of playoff contention and nearly sapped me of the will to live, I’m back for football season and ready for the Niners to, well, sap me of the will to live.
Let’s back up for a second. As I explained in the intro to my 2013 Niners season preview, I’m something of a fair weather football fan. I don’t follow college football at all, because a) I’m generally a pro sports guy, and b) I went to a college that doesn’t have a football team. It would have been cool to go somewhere like Michigan or Notre Dame where every Saturday the whole school comes out and all the alums live the rest of their lives vicariously through the exploits of 20-year-olds, but don’t feel bad for me. My college campus looked like this:
And the girls who go to school there look like this:
I did okay.
But anyway, without the college connection, my focus has been on the NFL, which, to be honest, hasn’t been very fun to follow, from an ethical perspective, for a couple of years. The league’s behavior around the concussion crisis has been so questionable that Will Smith is starring in an Enemy of the State–style movie about it, and for much of the last couple of years, reading football news has been like scanning a police blotter. Hey guys, here’s a thought: STOP BEATING THE SHIT OUT OF WOMEN. Thanks.
The thing that has kept me coming back, of course, has been my love of the San Francisco 49ers. As I noted in my 2014 season preview, the Niners came soooooo close to winning a title under Jim Harbaugh, losing twice in the NFC Championship Game and once in the Super Bowl, with each defeat more excruciating than the last. As I said in that same post, “the possibility is very real that the window may be closing and that this could be a make-or-break year for this collection of players.”
Well, it definitely turned out to be a break year. Nearly everyone on that roster you’ve heard of is gone, as is the coach. The offseason was so bad, Drew Magary at Deadspin wrote his season preview as a eulogy for the franchise. As we speak, I’m pouring out some liquor for my dead homies Justin Smith, Patrick Willis, and Frank Gore.
In past years, I did my season preview in a Pro/Con breakdown, but I can’t really get motivated to bring any positivity to this post. Instead, since this season is going to be hell, I’m going to go back to Dante and descend into the inferno that is the 2015 San Francisco 49ers. Follow me, weary souls, into the depths of hell.
1st Circle (Limbo): This has to be Colin Kaepernick. Last offseason, Kaep signed a big money extension that seemed to make him the team’s unquestioned QB of the feature. Only, the Niners have the option to void that deal after any season, and, let’s be honest, the Kaep we saw last year isn’t worth $18 million a year. Can he return to the heights of the 2012 playoffs, when he put on one of the best performances you’ll ever see, singlehandedly destroying the Packers, then leading huge comebacks against the Falcons and Ravens (the last one, of course, coming up just short)? I’m skeptical. I think, especially given the shaky state of the offensive line (the Niners lost two starters from last year’s unit, which wasn’t all that good anyway), that Kaep is gonna have to run for his life a lot, and that’s going to lead to sacks and turnovers. You know, like last year. He’ll probably show enough flashes that the team won’t cut him yet, but keep in mind that he’s not that young anymore. At 28, it’s likely that at this point, Kaep is what he is. And I’m the guy who wrote just one year ago that I’d take him over every young QB in the league except Andrew Luck. Also, homeboy needs to quit posting stupid shit on social media.
2nd Circle (Lust): Shout out to former 49er Ray McDonald, who the team vigorously defended after a domestic violence incident last year that actually led to the San Jose Police Department investigating relationships some of its officers had with the team. McDonald, of course, did it again later in the season, and was finally cut by the team. He signed with the Bears and then was promptly accused of rape. Current Niner linebacker Ahmad Brooks, by the way, was charged with misdemeanor sexual battery last month. He was sent home, but has since rejoined the team, because at this point the 49ers defense is basically a halfway house.
3rd Circle (Gluttony): Let’s hear it for the great Aldon Smith, who finally got kicked off the team this summer after yet another drunk driving charge (his third, I believe, and his fifth arrest, but who’s counting?). Look, I love booze, and I’ve consumed it irresponsibly enough to get me thrown in the clink a couple of times (although not since I was 21), but let’s be serious: when you have a multimillion-dollar career on the line, HIRE SOMEONE TO DRIVE YOU AROUND!!! HOW FUCKING HARD IS THAT!?!? Smith has since signed with the Raiders. (My friend and sometime guest blogger Tierney said, “the jokes write themselves,” although I would counter that we’re out-Raiders-ing the Raiders at this point.) Good riddance. I can deal with drunks; I can’t deal with morons.
4th Circle (Avarice & Prodigality): This one’s easy: Here’s to Jed York, who built an absurd joke of a stadium in an industrial park 40 miles south of the city in an attempt to mainline as much of that sweet Silicon Valley tech industry cash as he could. The building cost a billion dollars, yet it has a worse field than the public high school I attended, and half of the stands and one of the sidelines are basically located on the surface of the sun. (One of Harbaugh’s biggest beefs with York last year was that the owner wanted the Niners to use that charcoal-grilled sideline during games.) It took York like a year to completely tear apart one of the NFL’s signature franchises and turn us into the Santa Clara Raiders. As I explained after the home opener last year.
“What did the Niners look like in their first game at their fancy new digs? A team of felons (Aldon Smith is suspended, and Ray McDonald played despite an ongoing domestic violence investigation, a story that dominated the pregame broadcast, thereby taking the attention away from the fancy new digs). A team that committed an absurd 16 penalties for 118 yards (even if some of those penalties were bullshit, like the phantom holding call on Anquan Boldin that erased Frank Gore’s long touchdown, a disciplined team does not get 16 flags thrown against it). A team that turned the ball over repeatedly, lost its cool on the field, and generally looked dysfunctional, prompting scores of frustrated Jim Harbaugh faces that I’m sure non-Niners fans were gleefully laughing at during the game.
That’s right. They looked like the Raiders. The Santa Clara Raiders.”
If that’s not enough, the Niners are wearing their hideous new black jerseys for the opener on Monday night.
I fully expect the soon-to-be-LA-again Raiders to win more games than we do this year.
5th Circle (Wrath & Sullenness): This is the level where you find all Niners fans. We have a few positive things to look forward to this season: the return of NaVorro Bowman, Carlos “El Guapo” Hyde getting a shot to start, Aaron Lynch rushing off the edge, deep balls to Torrey Smith, Anquan Boldin being a badass. But after the suckiness of last season, the drama and mass exodus of the offseason, and the continued bumfuckery of the front office, we are broken, depressed, angry, and just bummed the fuck out, man. Niners fans are definitely spoiled after more than three decades of nearly unabated success, but the Nolan-Singletary years gave us a taste of despair, and we’re all dreading having to go through that torture again.
6th Circle (Heresy): To Patrick Willis and Chris Borland, who forsook us all and retired this offseason. I don’t blame either guy for his decision. Football is brutal, and it’s totally reasonable to walk away from the game while you can still, you know, walk. But it really bums me out that I won’t be able to scream “Kill that motherfucker, Patrick Willis” at my TV ever again.
And it bums me out almost as much that the Niners appeared to have found a Willis replacement, only to have that super fun, prematurely balding tackling machine ripped away from us. I don’t begrudge Borland his decision, but he was already on the verge of becoming a folk hero in San Francisco, and it sucks that we won’t get to watch that happen.
7th Circle (Violence): This one’s for Frank Gore, who ironically was pretty much the only member of the team not to get involved in an instance of off-field violence over the last few years. But NFL running backs have a short shelf life, due to the amount of violence that is done to them on pretty much every play. I understand why the team moved on from Gore, but I’m gonna miss that guy, and I wish him a ton of success in Indy.
8th Circle (Fraud): Here’s to Michael Crabtree, who was a top-10 draft choice and basically sucked the entire time he was on the team other than that first half-season that Kaepernick took over as the starter. Who Jim Harbaugh said had the best hands in the game, yet repeatedly dropped important passes. Who went and signed with the Raiders and then talked shit about Kaepernick even though when Kaep was going through contract negotiations, he specifically asked if his contract would be reasonable enough to help the team keep Crabtree. Fuck you, Crabs. You’ll be missed even less than an actual case of crabs.
9th Circle (Treachery): To GM Trent Baalke and new coach Jim Tomsula. Tomsula seems like a nice enough guy, he has a pretty heartwarming story, the players seem to like him, and I hope he turns out to be good. But let’s be honest, he’s not going to be as good as the coach he deposed, Jim Harbaugh, and if you believe the rumors Tim Kawakami has reported, he was the guy that was running upstairs to tattle on Harbaugh to Baalke and York last season. Not a great way to start.
If all this isn’t enough, the team has one of the toughest schedules in the league. Looking at that slate, I can’t see the Niners finishing better than 5-11. It still feels like a weird thing for a Bay Area sports fan to say, but I’m really just biding my time until the Warriors start back up. Welcome to hell, Niners fans.
Now, since the Niners have basically been eliminated from the playoffs before they even kick off, I’ll throw out some unresearched, snap judgment–style picks for the rest of the league:
NFC Playoff teams: Dallas (God, I hate everything), Green Bay, Atlanta, Seattle, Minnesota (Wild Card), St. Louis (Wild Card)
AFC Playoff Teams: New England, Indianapolis, Baltimore, Denver, San Diego (Wild Card), Miami (Wild Card)
NFC Championship: Green Bay over Seattle. This is where you remind me that Jordy Nelson is hurt and I just cover my ears and scream Aaron Rodgers over and over like an extra from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.
AFC Championship: Indianapolis over New England. Feel free to remind me of this pick when the Pats are up 38-10 at halftime.
Super Bowl: Green Bay over Indianapolis, 30-27. Two products of rival Bay Area colleges meet in Santa Clara, and the guy who should have been the a Niner wins. Rodgers over Luck. Fuck Stanford.