Dan Hanzus takes questions from you, the readers, in his latest mailbag. Thanks to everyone who sent in questions. This is why we're so close.
That's asking a lot. The arrival of Jimmy Garoppolo lit a fire under a proud franchise that had fallen on irrelevant times, but winning five straight games to close out last season doesn't mean we're suddenly looking at a revival of the Montana & Young Glory Boy Express.
The biggest issue lies on the defensive side of the ball, where there are concerns on each level. The team has pumped major draft resources -- i.e., first-round picks Arik Armstead, DeForest Buckner and Solomon Thomas -- into the defensive line, but those investments have yet to yield terror for opposing QBs. Reuben Foster is a difference-maker at linebacker, but he's also a troublemaker -- and it's keeping him off the field to start the season. Meanwhile, the addition of Richard Sherman was fun and flashy, but can we expect him to be the shutdown corner of his prime? Hard to see it.
An elite quarterback can cover up a lot of blemishes, of course, so how you feel about the 49ers really goes back to how far up you're sitting on the Jimmy G bandwagon. Me, I'm in a middle seat about 10 rows back. My prediction: The Niners will be entertaining and competitive ... but they won't be quite ready to kick down the door in the loaded NFC. They'll be knocking, though. 9-7.
The good news: The AFC looks kind of, well, bad right now, so you can absolutely make a playoff case for a middle-of-the-road outfit like the Dolphins. Here's why: It feels like it happened about 100 years ago, but Ryan Tannehill -- who's finally recovered from his left knee injury -- played the best football of his career under Adam Gase back in 2016. Kenyan Drake emerged after the Jay Ajayi trade and could challenge for the rushing title if things break right. Losing Ndamukong Suh as a cap casualty spoke to some of the internal issues that plague the business end of this franchise, but Suh's exit shouldn't be a death knell for the defense or team as a whole.
Did I mention Miami gets to play the Jets and Bills four times? Or that the AFC isn't very good? Once you get past the Patriots, Steelers and -- perhaps -- Jaguars, how many actual bullies are left? The Dolphins could absolutely win the nine or 10 games necessary to snag one of the wild cards. I mean, somebody has to. Keep your expectations earthbound, and sign up for a season where the Fins are in contention in late December.
Oh, I think Mike McCarthy is under a ton of pressure this season. Maybe more than any coach in the league right now. Aaron Rodgers will remain the constant, but the winds of change are blowing in Green Bay. Brian Gutekunst replaced Ted Thompson as general manager. Offensive coordinator Edgar Bennett was canned and replaced by the prodigal son, Joe Philbin. Even defensive coordinator Dom Capers -- Teflon Dom himself! -- finally got cut loose after nine seasons, replaced by former Browns head coach Mike Pettine. Personnel changes were paired with an organizational philosophy shift, as the Packers were active in free agency for the first time since, I dunno, Reggie White's introductory press conference.
Add it all up, and this is a time of transition for Green Bay. Rodgers is entering his age-35 season, and you have to wonder if Gutekunst will make an internal push for change at the top if the Packers fail to make a deep playoff run. My best guess? McCarthy needs a playoff berth and at least one January win to keep his gig. And that may not be enough.
Most people will go with basic pump-up anthems from the likes of Metallica, Meek Mill, the Barenaked Ladies, etc. I would opt for the incomparable 1890 composition "Clair de lune" by famed French Impressionist Claude Debussy. I feel like this choice would grant me a heady level of gravitas in my own locker room and, once word of my unusual pregame listening habits leaked out, opponents would view me as a wickedly deep emotional thinker capable of repurposing those thoughts into violent outbursts of physical dominance.
I will run through a wall for Claude Debussy.
With Sam Darnold now in camp for the Jets, a Teddy Bridgewater trade is starting to feel inevitable, barring a significant injury in the quarterback room. Darnold may or may not be the starter for Week 1, but he's going to get the bulk of the playing time this season either way. It simply makes no financial sense for New York to pay out $16 million (Josh McCown is due to make $10 million, Bridgewater $6 million) to carry two veteran backups behind its rookie hotshot.
This is where it gets tricky for the Jets, who must give Darnold the necessary practice and preseason reps, while also getting Bridgewater enough work to establish him as an attractive trade target. (McCown, I suppose, can just belly up to a local bar in Florham Park until Week 1.) If the Jets can find that balance, they could find themselves in an enviable position if and when a team loses its starting QB to injury. It's likely they'll wait things out through August to see if such a situation develops.
As for Bradford: Would you take on $15 million in guaranteed salary for a guy on the wrong side of 30 who has lost the equivalent of three full seasons to injury? Given his age, cost and upside, Bridgewater is a much smarter investment.
I'm always going to say Bill Parcells, because I'm a NY/NJ guy and the Big Tuna's coaching genius was only rivaled by his outsized ego and acerbic wit. Parcells won two Super Bowls, but his greatest achievement might be that he pretty much invented trolling. Bill is edging into his late-70s now and is probably enjoying his daily bialy at Saratoga as you read this, so I doubt a comeback is in the offing. Elsewhere, I have to say Jim Harbaugh is missed. I feel like college football fans are getting the full-on bonkers version of Harbaugh we only got occasional glimpses of during his 49ers tenure. This week, we learned that Harbaugh once told one of his Michigan quarterbacks to avoid chicken because he believed them to be "nervous birds."
"He thinks some type of sickness injected its way into the human population when people began eating white meats instead of beef and pork," former Michigan QB Wilton Speight told Bleacher Report. "And he believes it, 100 percent."
Shoot that madness into my veins!
Well, pizza is my one true and forever love, therefore mozzarella must remain in the mix. I've always respected Swiss and its ability to complement a sandwich without being too showy. Finally, I will stand for cheddar, a wonderful team player who can also take over when necessary, sometimes in transcendent fashion. It's the LeBron of cheeses.
Fun question. Here are the contenders:
If I had to pick one team with all the cheddar cheese on the line, I'm going with the '13 Seahawks ... and it's an easy choice.
That team had everything: An ascendant young quarterback (Russell Wilson), a stud running back (Marshawn Lynch), a historically great defense loaded with stars (Kam Chancellor, Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas), a deep Pete Carroll coaching staff, an unmatched home-field advantage -- this was a franchise in full bloom. Seattle's defense led the league in points allowed (14.4 per game), yards allowed (273.6 per game) and takeaways (39 total). Peyton Manning still has nightmares about the Super Bowl. Fire take: I'd put the '13 Seahawks up against any Lombardi winner and feel pretty confident the 12s would be celebrating in four hours.
Until next time ...