Most are expecting a bounce back year from the 49ers, who fell to 6-10 in 2020 after a series of devastating injuries depleted the roster of a 13-3 team the year prior, but I still think the 49ers are underrated, as they are starting from a higher base point than last year’s 6-10 record suggests. The 49ers finished last season 4th in schedule adjusted first down rate differential at +3.66%, as their record was largely the result of a poor turnover margin (-11, 2nd worst in the NFL), which is a highly inconsistent metric year-to-year, and a tough schedule, which gets easier this season.
The 49ers are likely to be significantly healthier and have a significantly better turnover margin than a year ago, which should allow them to win a lot of games, against an easier schedule, starting with a matchup with one of the worst teams in the league in the Detroit Lions. The Lions already looked like one of the worst two teams in the league going into the season, their first without Matt Stafford, who they sent to the Rams in a rebuilding move this off-season, and the Lions will also be without one of their best players, left tackle Taylor Decker in this matchup, forcing rookie Penei Sewell, who was overwhelmed in the pre-season, to protect the blindside of new quarterback Jared Goff, rather than beginning his career at right tackle.
This line is high, favoring the 49ers at 8.5, but I don’t think it’s high enough and it’s likely this line would be at least double digits by mid-season, as the public has yet to realize the 49ers are one of the top teams in the league again. Their defense won’t be quite as good as 2019 because their secondary isn’t as good, but their offense could be much more explosive than 2019’s, if the trio of Deebo Samuel, George Kittle, and Brandon Aiyuk all stay relatively healthy, as they are now. Those 2019 49ers won 8 of their 13 regular season games by at least 9 points, as well as their two playoff victories, so they should be able to take care of business against one of the worst teams in the league. This line being over a touchdown is stopping me from making this a bigger play, but the 49ers should win with ease, even opening their season on the road.
San Francisco 49ers 31 Detroit Lions 17
Pick against the spread: San Francisco -8.5