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Predictions & Projections
David Dorey
The Huddle
September 7, 2005
Season Ticket
Thur 9 PM Sun 1 PM Sun 1 PM Sun 4 PM Sun 8:30 PM
Sun 1 PM SEA at JAC NYJ at KC STL at SF Mon 9 PM
DEN at MIA CIN at CLE   GB at DET Times ET

Prediction: St. Louis 31, San Francisco 17

The Rams start week one of the easiest schedule in the NFL while the 49ers merely start week one of being the easy part of everyone's schedule. The Rams won both games last year by 10 points and it could have been more had they not just lost interest from lack of challenge. The 49ers are retooling everything while the Rams arrive intact and maybe better than before. That ten point deficit could be by halftime and then only get worse - no one loses interest in week one.

St. Louis Rams (0-0)
1 Sep 11 @SFO 10 Nov 13 @SEA
2 Sep 18 @ARI 11 Nov 20 ARI
3 Sep 25 TEN 12 Nov 27 @HOU
4 Oct 2 @NYG 13 Dec 4 WAS
5 Oct 9 SEA 14 Dec 11 @MIN
6 Oct 17 @IND 15 Dec 18 PHI
7 Oct 23 NOR 16 Dec 24 SFO
8 Oct 30 JAC 17 Jan 1 @DAL
9 Open Bye . MON SAT
STL Projections Rush Catch Pass
QB Marc Bulger 10 0 260,2
RB Steven Jackson 120,1 10 0
RB Marshall Faulk 30,1 20 0
TE Roland Williams 0 10 0
WR Torry Holt 0 120,1 0
WR Isaac Bruce 0 60 0
WR Kevin Curtis 0 30,1 0
PK Jeff Wilkins 1 FG 4 XP -
Pregame Notes: St. Louis greets 2005 with Bulger entering his third season as starter and Torry Holt already one of the elite receivers in the league. Steven Jackson now takes over as tailback and while Isaac Bruce is getting older, Kevin Curtis showed this summer there is already a replacement ready when needed.

Quarterback: Marc Bulger threw for 3964 yards last year, sixth best in the NFL and yet he only played in 14 games. That is a 4500 year pace for a full season and matchups against the AFC East last year were the only opponents bringing his average down.

Bulger only played against the 49ers once last year and had 186 yards and one score because Marshall Faulk ran for 121 yards and made passing unneeded. While Jackson could replicate that this year, Bulger will look to shine in his first game out - even it if means pumping up the score.

Running Backs: Steven Jackson gets the starting call this season while Marshall Faulk accepts the second spot on the depth chart. Until we see some games, the split between the two is pure speculation and regardless will likely depend as much on game situations as it does game plans.

The 49ers were a cakewalk last year and both Faulk (121 yards) and Jackson (119 yards) took turns ripping through the defense. The only interesting aspect will be how much play Faulk gets this week but considering Faulk is more likely an additional weapon rather than just there to spell Jackson, he may not get as much time this week as he will in games to come. He just won't be needed.

Wide Receivers: The Rams already had a formidable passing game with Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce and the duo combined for over 2600 yards and 16 touchdowns in 2004. The only other team even close to that were the Colts which brings another interesting parallel. The Rams are looking to create the same sort of triplet receivers found in Indianapolis with the development of Kevin Curtis who led all NFL wideouts in the preseason with three touchdowns scored. While perhaps Isaac Bruce and Reggie Wayne are players heading in two different directions, Curtis is certainly capable of turning in the sort of surprising season from the slot that Brandon Stokley did last year. Limiting him somewhat will be Shaun McDonald who actually makes the #4 spot productive.

While the Rams did not play big when they faced the 49ers last year, that didn't prevent Torry Holt from having a 160 yard, one touchdown game in the last meeting.

Tight Ends: The Rams acquired Roland Williams in the offseason and brought him back to where he originally played from 1998 until 2001 when he left for Oakland. Williams did have a six touchdown season back in 1999 but the Rams have almost entirely phased tight end passes from their playbook. Brandon Manumaleuna was demoted to #2 after only scoring once last year with 174 total yards.

Match Against the Defense: Last year the 49ers were so bad that no team really prepared nor played hard to beat them and the resulting scores were often lower than expected. That should not be the case in week one. Regardless of opponent, teams want to get out of the starting gate hot. Expect a great game from Steven Jackson who has already shined there last year and Marc Bulger will no doubt notice the matchup of Torry Holt against second-year CB Shawntae Spencer who played as a rookie but never defended more than two passes in any game. He will likely match that on the first series.

Given the 49ers entering a new era with new coaches and schemes, this has to be considered a candidate for a very nice win by the Rams who can exploit weaknesses as they develop.

San Francisco 49ers (0-0)
1 Sep 11 STL 10 Nov 13 @CHI
2 Sep 18 @PHI 11 Nov 20 SEA
3 Sep 25 DAL 12 Nov 27 @TEN
4 Oct 2 @ARI 13 Dec 4 ARI
5 Oct 9 IND 14 Dec 11 @SEA
6 Open Bye 15 Dec 18 @JAC
7 Oct 23 @WAS 16 Dec 24 @STL
8 Oct 30 TBB 17 Jan 1 HOU
9 Nov 6 NYG . . SAT
SFO Projections Rush Catch Pass
QB Tim Rattay 0 0 250,2
RB Kevan Barlow 50 10 0
TE Billy Bajema 0 10 0
WR Brandon Lloyd 0 100,1 0
WR Johnnie Morton 0 40 0
WR Arnaz Battle 0 60 0
WR Rashaun Woods 0 20,1 0
PK Joe Nedney 1 FG 2 XP -

Pregame Notes: The 49ers, Browns and Dolphins were in a dead heat las year for the most painful team to watch and evidenced by the first pick in the NFL draft, the 49ers managed the win. The team imploded from within last year and the big broom came out this spring. First time headcoach Mike Nolan came over from Baltimore and brought on OC Mike McCarthy from New Orleans to drive the final dagger into the west coast offense. It was probably gory but by last January no one was watching anymore.

Quarterback: The 49ers used the #1 pick in the 2005 NFL draft to select Alex Smith out of Utah and while it initially appeared that Smith would take the start this season, his poor play coupled with improved work from Tim Rattay has handed the reins back for the time being. Rattay clearly looked better in the preseason games than did Smith and he'll be better off getting some splinter seasoning this year until Rattay, yet again, gets injured.

Running Backs: Kevan Barlow finally got to be the lone starter in San Francisco but could not have chosen a worse season if he had his selection of the last 25 years. Barlow had a worse year than he did in 2003 when he was splitting time with Garrison Hearst. The 49ers took a risk in drafting Frank Gore who fell in the draft with concerns about his old knee injury and so far this offseason, Barlow has looked much better than Gore who missed time with a shoulder injury as well.

This will be Barlow's gig this year until he outright fails or later in the season sees the 49ers falling so far in the standings that Gore is given a "let's see" shot in a game or two. Barlow has taken Gore's presence as motivation and seems to have stepped up.

Wide Receivers: If you thought last season would be a bad set of receivers, you were just being premature. Cedrick Wilson left for the Steelers and a four-year contract and the 49ers enter the season with only Brandon "Bling" Lloyd and Arnaz Battle as starters. Johnnie Morton was acquired in the offseason as a castoff from the Chiefs but at his age, he's there more to lend veteran direction than actual production. Think "Curtis Conway" last year and then remember his production.

The 49ers no doubt will need to throw this season and Rattay can get the job done at least during trash "let's make this look respectable" time. Lloyd is the "star" of this group with his 565 yards and six scores from last year. Arnaz Battle has looked intriguing which is about all you can hope for from a player with only eight career catches in the NFL. Rashaun Woods did not only prove a bust last year, he often did not even wear a uniform on game day. He's looked better this summer but his seven career catches cannot compare to the eight catches of Battle.

Tight Ends: Eric Johnson had a two game span last year that produced 275 yards and one touchdown. The rest of the year only had one score and 550 yards. He's slated to miss this week still hobbled with the plantar fascia in his right foot. The rookie Billy Bajema from Oklahoma State will get the start this week.

Match Against the Defense: All new offensive scheme with Rattay throwing to Lloyd and Battle - hard to put much stock in it quite yet. Rattay had 299 yards and two scores in the first meeting last year but only 121 yards and no touchdowns the second time. A new offense often can get some surprise plays in it so the passing yardage could be respectable here again. Forget Barlow this week - in two meetings last year he gained only 42 and 48 yards in them. This game should provide what many 49er games will contain until the offense and defense gels - trash time passing yards. The beneficiaries of those yards is always harder to gauge but Lloyd already has chemistry with Rattay. The other probable touchdown could go anywhere.