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2006 49ers Preview

By Robert Ferringo of Doc's Sports Picks

As part of his insufferable on-air shtick, ESPN's Chris Berman picks Buffalo and San Francisco to meet and battle in the Super Bowl each year. In 2006, the Bills and the 49ers will be fighting all right - fighting for the title of Worst Team in the National Football League.

San Francisco is still "rebuilding" but they're laying the foundation on wet sand. It's still strange knowing that a whole generation of football fans will know the 49ers as laughingstocks, when they've been so dominant for the past 20 years. Strange indeed.

The 49ers possessed the league's worst offense and worst defense last season. Oh, and they let their top performer on each side of the ball get away. Linebacker Julian Peterson signed with Seattle during free agency and San Fran traded wideout Brandon Lloyd to Washington. Needless to say - the once-mighty 49ers are going to suck again this year.

Quarterback Alex Smith was an unmitigated disaster last year. The team averaged just 95.9 yards passing in games that he started, while he managed just one touchdown and 11 interceptions with a rating of 40.8. For perspective, if every one of his 165 passes had landed incomplete in the sixth row his rating would've been 39.6. Smith didn't have much help - he was sacked once every 6.7 times he dropped back.

Second-year coach Mike Nolan's teachings may have taken root in the second half of last year. San Fran won its last two games and lost to playoff clubs Seattle, Chicago and Jacksonville by a combined 11 points. Nolan is preaching patience and building his team through the draft. But they still have a long way to go before they are in a position to compete.

Here's Doc's 2006 San Francisco 49ers Preview:

2005 Record: 4-12 (3-6 home, 1-7 road)
2005 Rankings: 32nd offense (32nd pass, 17th run); 32nd defense (32nd pass, 18th run)
2005 Against the Spread: 8-8 (5-3 home, 3-5 road); 10-6 vs. total (4-4 h, 6-2 r)
2006 Odds: 150/1 to win Super Bowl, 80/1 to win NFC, 50/1 to win NFC West, 5 is wins O/U
2006 Strength of Schedule: 23rd (.477 opp. win percentage)
Returning starters: 19 (10 offense, 9 defense)

Key stat: The 49ers lost their first six road games by an average of 25 points. Their first two road games in 2006 are at Arizona and Kansas City.

Key acquisitions: Larry Allen, OG (from Dallas); Antonio Bryant, WR (from Cleveland); Trent Dilfer (from Cleveland); Walt Harris, CB (from Wash.); Manny Lawson, LB (draft); Vernon Davis, TE (draft).

Key departures: Julian Peterson, LB; Andre Carter, LB; Brandon Lloyd, WR; Fred Beasley, FB; Travis Hall, DE, Ahmed Plummer, CB; Rashaun Woods, WR; Marques Anderson.

Offense: The San Fran attack is more limp-wristed than a waiter in The Castro. They didn't score an offensive touchdown in eight games last year. This season the health of the offensive line is vital. Jonas Jennings and Jeremy Newberry are recovering from injuries, and Newberry is 50-50 for the year. The 49ers brought in Larry Allen, but he's in his 13th year and likely won't hold up for an entire season. Vernon Davis will help, and look for a breakout year from Arnez Battle, but it's going to be slow going for a unit that averaged just 15 points and 12 first downs.

Defense: Their non-existent pass rush exposes their below-average secondary. Bryant Young is in his 13th season, and Peterson and Andre Carter - their only other pass-rushing threats - are gone. The linebackers are solid, and expectations will be high on rookie outside Manny Lawson. This is still a patchwork crew. They won't be able to count on the offense to hold the ball either, so expect another season of Overs.

X-factor: The schedule. They don't have any East Coast trips and only play four games against 2005 playoff teams. That doesn't mean a winning season, but hopefully it means closer games.

Outlook: San Francisco is awful. They got off to a rough start last year, and I expect more of the same this season. But they also went 4-2 against double-digit lines in the second half of last year. I also think with a moderately improved offense and softer defense they should be a solid over play again in '06.

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