The Chip Kelly era in Santa Clara is set to begin. The first season won’t be pretty. It fact, it may get downright ugly before all is said and done.
Start with the talent level. A number of NFL executives consider the Niners to have the worst core group in the league. Balls isn’t so sure about that. It’s in the bottom quarter or so, no doubt, but several guys have the potential to be regular contributors. Let’s see if defensive end Arik Armstead, linebacker Aaron Lynch, offensive tackle Trent Brown, defensive tackle Tank Carradine, feature back Carlos Hyde, cornerback Jimmie Ward and a few others take the next step this season.
The schedule-makers haven’t done the Niners any favors, either. If they don’t take care of business against the Los Angeles Rams at home in the season opener, one of the few very winnable games on their schedule, Kelly may have to wait a while before he gets his first W with the team. They very well could be 0-6 when they return home to play the beatable Tampa Bay Buccaneers in late October.
But let’s not get all negative before a game has been played. The fact that there are zero expectations figures to be a good thing. The Niners aren’t supposed to win more than three or four games. That means they can play fast and loose.
Besides, this season isn’t about wins and losses, anyway, it’s about development. Kelly figures to be here a while.
The same can’t be said of general manager Trent Baalke, who assembled this group for better or worse. If the young nucleus fails to make noticeable progress, then he won’t be long for the job. Kelly and assistant GM Tom Gamble worked well together with the Philadelphia Eagles, and Gamble wouldn’t have to move far to take the next step.
IT’S ABOUT TIME: The team on the East Bay has the opposite problem. Expectations for the Raiders haven’t been this great since the 2003 season, the one after their last Super Bowl appearance.
Die-hard Raiders fans don’t need to be reminded what came next. Pride and Poise finished 4-12, after which coach Bill Callahan was shown the door. It started a run of 12 consecutive seasons that they finished .500 or worse.
Coach Jack Del Rio shouldn’t fear for his job yet, but anything less than nine victories will be unacceptable in a rather mediocre division. Yet while the Raiders should be in the wild card hunt, they may not have enough to overtake the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC West quite yet. Next year could be their year, and Raiders fans can only hope their team will be in Oakland to see it.
THE LIST: Ballsy predictions for the local NFL season …
Carlos Hyde and Vance McDonald will be heard from in fantasy football. But Plain Blaine Gabbert and Torrey Smith not so much.
Pencil in Raiders wideout Amari Cooper for 10 touchdowns and 1,200 yards in the regular season.
The Niners’ decision to take Kaepernick over QB Alex Smith will look worse every week. (Here’s lookin’ at you, Jim Harbaugh!)
The Raiders will miss wise, old heads Justin Tuck and Charles Woodson more than care to admit.
Come November, Levi’s Stadium will be one-third empty, while Kelly will argue the glass is half full.
Come December, Oakland Coliseum will be packed, and Las Vegas will say the glass is more than full.
The Niners will overachieve to win five games, or enough to lose the first pick in the draft. The Cleveland Browns will make sure of it.
WHERE HAVE YOU GONE …: Jimmy Johnson and Dave Wilcox, Gene Washington and John Brodie?