49ers season prediction: A step back could still be successful season

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The 49ers are diving into the unknown by starting Trey Lance under center in 2022 and moving on from Jimmy Garoppolo, who quarterbacked them to the NFC championship last year. Despite the uncertainty at the most important position on the field, a prediction from USA TODAY’s Nate Davis (subscriber only) has San Francisco finishing with the same record as last year, making the playoffs, and falling a game short of a return to the NFC championship. If that’s how Lance’s rookie season ends, it’s hard to believe it’s anything less than a sizable success.

While the 49ers are moving into the Lance era because they believe they can win with him, there are some lumps to be expected. A soft start to the year could buoy the 49ers’ playoff chances. Via Davis:

New QB1 Trey Lance was solid in spot duty as a rookie last year, and he’ll launch his Niners tenure by facing five non-playoff clubs from last season in the first six weeks. He’s bound to make mistakes Garoppolo probably wouldn’t, but Lance should also provide big plays Jimmy G. too rarely executes. Ought to be plenty good enough for a team that’s actually reliant on defense and the run game.

He has the 49ers finishing 10-7, defeating the Eagles in Philadelphia on Wild Card weekend, and then losing to the Buccaneers in the divisional playoffs.

It’s a step back, but considering the starting point for Lance, it’s hard to say it wouldn’t be a success. He started just 17 games in the FCS, and started only two games as a rookie. There’s a hill to climb for him as he develops, but optimism will ultimately reign if rookie mistakes and some adversity results in a 10-7 finish and a playoff win.

A finish like that would set the first-time starter on a very strong trajectory toward being one of the NFL’s elite signal callers. The development can’t stop there, but 2022 is supposed to be the beginning. If this is the only step back the 49ers take in Lance’s first season, they’ll certainly take it.

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