5. San Francisco 49ers (HOME – Week 7)
A No. 5 ranking might actually be too low for this game. After all, these are the defending NFC Champions.
The San Francisco 49ers went 13-3 last year en route to a 31-20 Super Bowl LIV loss to the Kansas City Chiefs that was much closer than the final score indicated. If not for Patrick Mahomes leading K.C. to 21 points in the span of just over six minutes of game time, the 49ers, not the Chiefs, would be reigning Super Bowl champions.
There was rampant speculation less than two months ago even that these 49ers would be quarterbacked by Tom Brady in 2020. Brady, a Bay Area native and childhood fan of the Niners and Joe Montana, reportedly had S.F. pegged as his dream free agency destination.
And while 49ers GM John Lynch and head coach Kyle Shanahan admitted to discussing the idea, they ultimately elected to ride with Jimmy Garoppolo instead in 2020 and let Brady go to Tampa Bay.
Patriots fans will remember Jimmy Garoppolo fondly as the former second-round pick who looked so promising in relief of Brady during TB12’s early-season Deflategate suspension in 2016.
Injury ultimately knocked Jimmy G out of that Patriots campaign and paved the way for Jacoby Brissett to make a name for himself before Brady eventually returned, but anyone with eyes saw enough from Garoppolo to understand why Belichick was so enamored with him.
Unfairly labeled as a game manager in 2019 because of San Francisco’s prolific rushing attack and phenomenal defense, Garoppolo is similar to Brady in many ways. Neither QB is rocket-armed, but both are extremely intelligent, accurate, and careful with the football.
The major difference between Garoppolo and Brady — other than age — is mobility. While Jimmy G is far from a dual-threat quarterback, he’s more confident than Brady when it comes to tucking the ball and running for a first down. While Brady is preternaturally gifted and evading pressure and stepping up into the pocket, Garoppolo is slippery and quick enough to hustle for the sticks when he needs to.
I don’t have to tell you what the major storylines will be leading up to this Sunday afternoon game on CBS. Jim Nantz and Tony Romo will spend three hours plus dissecting the nature of the bizarre love triangle between Belichick, Brady, and Garoppolo.
Suffice it to say that Patriots fans better hope New England wins this game. Otherwise, it will sting all the more knowing that the victorious QB on the other sideline — the same guy who just played in a Super Bowl — could have been Brady’s successor if Belichick had had his way.