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ESPN released its Football Power Index for the start of the 2022 season, and the 49ers are noticeably absent from the top half. In fact, the team that made the NFC championship game last year is all the way down at No. 24 to begin the year. The Detroit Lions and New York Giants are both ahead of San Francisco.
So why are they so low in FPI when power rankings tend to place them somewhere inside the top 10?
The short answer is Trey Lance.
It’s not that ESPN is projecting Lance to be bad. It’s simply that he’s an unknown quantity at this point.
FPI “is a measure of team strength that is meant to be the best predictor of a team’s performance going forward for the rest of the season. FPI represents how many points above or below average a team is. Projected results are based on 10,000 simulations of the rest of the season using FPI, results to date, and the remaining schedule,” per ESPN’s site.
For San Francisco, their special teams is supposed to be neutral in terms of points added vs. an average opponent on a neutral field. Their defense is expect to add 0.2 points. Their offense is where things go sideways for their ranking and where Lance comes in.
The offensive FPI component puts the 49ers at -6.3 points. Part of that is surely do to some uncertainty on the offensive line, but the inability to quantify what Lance brings beyond a small body of work from his rookie year makes it difficult to project San Francisco’s offense.
A low FPI ranking this early in the year isn’t a huge problem, especially since early games against the Bears and Seahawks will give the 49ers and Lance a chance to outperform the abysmal pre-season numbers.
If Lance is the QB the 49ers expect him to be, they’ll find themselves up inside the top 10 much sooner than later.