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Doug Farrar

Self-delusion, thy name is 49ers

Doug Farrar
Shutdown Corner

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Through Week 5, there are three teams that stand at 0-5: the Buffalo Bills, the Carolina Panthers and the San Francisco 49ers. Buffalo and Carolina have awful defenses and quarterback situations that border on the horrific -- they're bad teams getting worse, and they have the sense to shut up about it and start planning for their top three picks in the 2011 NFL draft.

But if you guessed that the 49ers would somehow maintain a brashness despite their winless status ... well, you would be correct. What tipped you off? Their bat-spit "intense" head coach? Or uber-confident owner and team president Jed York, who texted the following message to ESPN mega-insider Adam Schefter on Monday morning:

"We're going to win the division."

Zounds. That sentence deserves its own paragraph, as much as I'm not a fan of that particular writing gimmick. Win the division, you say, Mr. York? Well, let's look at the facts. Your minus-54 point differential is the third-worst in the league (behind Buffalo and Carolina ... hmmm. Ya think points and winning are somehow connected?). And only the Raiders and Bills have allowed more points than that supposedly airtight defense you put together. You allow the reassignment of TV people who dare question your head coach's methods, when those methods are very questionable. After losses, your team can't even get the stories straight as to why they keep happening. And the only time your alleged franchise quarterback can get his motor going is when he has sideline arguments with his head coach and the home fans are calling for his head (and to be replaced by David Carr(notes), of all people).

Now, theoretically, it is actually possible that York could be proven right. As Schefter points out, the team has only played one division game to date, faces teams like Carolina and Oakland in their non-division games, and plays in one of the NFL's worst divisions (if not the worst). That's the theoretical. Realistically ... well, there's a subset of reasons that no team with an 0-5 start since 1990 has made the playoffs. The primary reason? Um, 0-5 teams generally stink. (How's THAT for statistical analysis?)

[Related: NFL coach, QB in sideline blowup]

OK, let's be a bit more specific. Football Outsiders, a site I also write for, maintains specific opponent-adjusted efficiency metrics that tabulate how teams are doing beyond just the obvious won-lost/points scored/allowed numbers. Sometimes, teams really are much better than their records. Are the 2010 49ers such a team?

Unfortunately, the FO Magic 8-Ball tells us that the answer is "no." Through Week 4, San Francisco ranked 28th in overall efficiency, 30th on offense, 19th on defense, and 28th on special teams. Losing a close game to a good team like the Philadelphia Eagles might tip those numbers up a bit (especially on special teams), but there's nothing in the stats -- traditional or sabermetric -- that indicate anything remotely close to the kind of performance improvement required for what York's talking about. Especially when there's such tension between coach and quarterback.

But let's say York is right about this, and the 49ers actually pull this off -- a 9-7 record would probably be good enough to win the NFC West this season, so ... 9-2 down the stretch? No el problemo!

I'll say this -- if York's prediction comes true, I promise I'll be eating all the crow I can handle on this very website. It's just that there's so little logical basis for such a statement.

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