NFL 2018 Season - Week 16
 

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Drop Off
by Dennis Ranahan

I’m not very popular in my hometown.

Picking against the San Francisco 49ers this year is about as popular as Hillary sweatshirts at a Trump rally.

There have been years in the past when I professed what I knew and predicted doom for the hometown team. But this year, 49er fans are a bit more rabid, a bit more protective, of what they predict will be a banner season for their team in red and gold.

I’m looking for new ways to gently tell my San Francisco fans that I am but the messenger, and I make no judgements on who they root for. Have at it this season, I’m just afraid you are going to be in for a rocky road. My worst fear is realized when fans blame me for their team’s frugality, as if I was the cause and not just the one reading numbers.

It’s not my fault that the 49ers won their last five games, all the contests Jimmy Garoppolo started for his new team. The 49ers were 1 and 10 when Garoppolo got his first start in Chicago, and while San Francisco didn’t crack the endzone they did down the Bears by virtue of five field goals, 15-14.

The following Sunday, in Houston, the 49ers caught the Texans in total disarray due to a series of debilitating injuries, and Garoppolo looked good in leading San Francisco to a 26-16 win. Back in the Bay Area the next week, San Francisco earned a narrow win over the Tennessee Titans, 25-23. In that game, Garoppolo turned in his best performance of the season and quickly became a rising star in San Francisco.

The last two 2017 wins for San Francisco were played against opponents that barely showed up. On Christmas Eve, the Jacksonville Jaguars visited Levi’s Stadium the week after they had clinched their first division title in a decade. After the 49ers capitalized on that soft spot, they got treated a Rams tilt that was played without Los Angeles risking injury to almost anyone in uniform.

Those are the 49ers five wins, and that string of victories was clearly boosted by highly advantageous situations to help slay their opponents.

When expectations are in balance with talent, you find a team that will play more to their real skill level. When talent exceeds expectations, you get a team likely to earn a breakthrough season, one like the Los Angeles Rams enjoyed last year. They ended a ten-year string of losing campaigns while capturing a first round playoff bye.

Trouble brews when expectations exceed talent, and in my more than 40 years of professional handicapping I have never seen this scale more clearly weighted. The 49ers were 1-10 last year, now they are 10 to 1 to win the Super Bowl. That is in range of the Atlanta Falcons and Green Bay Packers, two teams that have a legitimate shot at a championship.

Fervent 49ers fans believe this is their year but do you think they know the 49ers have failed to cover the point spread in either of their preseason contests? Point spread results are the first thing to go when a team is saddled with expectations that far exceed actual talent.

I’m pretty sure the 49ers are going to lose a lot of point spreads this year, perhaps as many as three more than straight-up defeats. Expecting them to win no more than eight games, even if they reach that somewhat optimistic goal, that equates to a 2018 point spread record of 5-11.

They are getting practice losing point spread decisions this preseason, and today looks like another setback in Indianapolis.

Qoxhi Picks: Indianapolis Colts (pick) over San Francisco 49ers