The San Francisco 49ers lead the way with 6/1 odds to win this year’s Super Bowl, and who can say they’re surprised? Last year’s winner, the Baltimore Ravens barely cracks the top-10 due to numerous losses via retirement, free agency and trades, while the 49ers have been in two straight NFC title games and look built to kill for years to come.
The most encouraging aspect of the 49ers is that star quarterback Colin Kaepernick lead them to the big game last year, and he only had 10 career starts under his belt. With a full off-season to prepare as “the guy”, there’s almost no doubt he’ll be better than he was a year ago – which is awfully scary.
Losing star number one wide receiver Michael Crabtree to a torn achilles certainly doesn’t help, but the loss has come early enough that the 49ers should be able to adjust. The trade for former Ravens wide receiver Anquan Boldin now looks highly intelligent, while Crabtree’s absence will allow Kaepernick to develop better chemistry with athletic tight end Vernon Davis.
There’s always the chance the 49ers could still add help via free agency, but even if they don’t, their run-first offense will still be about the same as it was a year ago.
On defense, the 49ers are still a top-five unit, even if they had made no changes. But they did make adjustments, as they cheaply re-signed Justin Smith to help anchor the defensive line, while they also brought in cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha and signed defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey. On paper, these appear to be smart, efficient signings from a financial perspective, while both players could benefit immensely from being surrounded by such great defensive talent.
In addition, the 49ers replaced departing safety Dashon Goldson with rookie safety Eric Reid via the draft. There could be a slight downgrade in overall performance, but with San Francisco’s pass defense already being the one main knock they tend to get, going cheaper and younger was a pretty solid move.
Ultimately, this is still the same team that was in the Super Bowl a year ago. The 49ers will have to make up for the loss of Crabtree for much of the year, but with their top receiver possibly making it back in late November or early December, the injury may not prove to be so crippling.
If the 49ers can walk into the playoffs with Crabtree back in the lineup and a healthy defense, there’s every reason to think they can return to the Super Bowl and finish the job.