San Francisco 49ers 2020 season preview: Don't sleep on a Super Bowl return

ByESPN Staff ESPN logo
Tuesday, September 8, 2020

The San Francisco 49ers are ranked No. 3 in ESPN's Football Power Index ahead of the 2020 NFL season. With no preseason games this year amid the coronavirus pandemic, Week 1 is the first time we'll see new acquisitions and rookies for every team. Week 1 will also give us the first NFL games since the 49ers lostSuper Bowl LIV in February.

Here's everything you need to know about the 49ers heading into the season, from the big question to answer and the toughest stretch on their schedule to a bold prediction and potential breakout fantasy football stars.

Full schedule | Roster | Depth chart

The big question:Can the 49ers return to the Super Bowl and finish the job?

Rare is the team that can lose a Super Bowl, then return the next year and win the Lombardi Trophy. In fact, it has only happened three times. But the Niners believe they can do it in large part because they return almost all of their starters and coaching staff in a season when continuity might be more valuable than ever.-- Nick Wagoner

How the pandemic has most affected the 49ers

The lack of fans in the stands will hurt the Niners in more ways than one. In addition to the loss of the home field advantage that they finally enjoyed in 2019, the economic ramifications are particularly tough on a team with so many players in need of lucrative contract extensions. The expected drop in the salary cap will make things difficult next offseason as the 49ers try to extend their championship window by re-signing the likes of tackle Trent Williams, cornerback Richard Sherman, fullback Kyle Juszczyk and many more set to be free agents.-- Wagoner

Football Power Index projections for the 49ers

Overall ranking: 3

Offensive ranking: 5

Defensive ranking: 5

Special teams ranking: 3

Total wins: 10.1

NFC West title chances: 53.8%

Chances to make playoffs: 80.3%

Super Bowl chances: 11.2%

2021 draft pick: No. 29

Inside the 49ers' schedule

FPI's strength of schedule rank: 12

Toughest stretch:From Week 7 to Week 10, the 49ers are on the road for three of four games -- at New England, Seattle and New Orleans. In between is a home game against a Green Bay team that figures to still be smarting from a pair of blowout losses to the Niners at Levi's Stadium in 2019. That stretch should go a long way in determining San Francisco's playoff fate.

Over or under 10.1 wins? OVER. Expecting the Niners to meet or improve on their 13-3 season of a year ago is asking a lot, but this is still one of the most talented rosters in the league led by a dynamic coaching staff. Like last year, the Niners will probably lose a game or two they shouldn't, but a lot would have to go wrong for them not to make the postseason. Something like 11-5 and another NFC West division crown feels about right.-- Wagoner

Bold prediction for 2020: Bosa ramps up the sacks

Defensive end Nick Bosa takes the next step, jumping from nine sacks as a rookie to 16 in Year 2. A full offseason training with his brother Joey, a chance to start the season healthy and a training camp spent squaring off with Williams have Bosa primed for the leap to superstardom. The breakthrough season vaults Bosa to a top-five finish in NFL Defensive Player of the Year voting. -- Wagoner

Breakout fantasy star: Brandon Aiyuk, WR

Aiyuk, the 25th overall pick of April's draft, made progress in training camp. That coupled with Deebo Samuel's injury may have the rookie positioned for a Week 1 starting gig. Aiyuk, who averaged more than 10 yards after the catch last season at Arizona State, may struggle for consistency in the 49ers' run-heavy offense, but he has a path to WR3 numbers if he emerges as the team's early-season No. 1 receiver. -- Mike Clay

ADP for the 49ers' top players:

The view from Vegas

Super Bowl odds: 7-1 (opened 7-1)

Over/under: 10.5

Playoff odds: Yes -325, No +265

The 49ers, coming off their loss to the Chiefs in Super Bowl LIV, are the favorites to win the NFC again in 2020. They are only the third-favorites to win it all, behind the Chiefs (4-1) and the Ravens (7-1) -- but at much shorter odds than last season, when they opened at 40-1. -- ESPN Chalk staff

Odds courtesy of Caesars Sportsbook by William Hill.

Where the 49ers landed in NFL Rank

Speed reads before Week 1

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