USA TODAY Sports photo of 49ers QB Jimmy Garoppolo
USA TODAY Sports photo of 49ers QB Jimmy Garoppolo

2018 win total (via bovada): 8.5

2017 ATS record: 9-7

Optimist view: Jimmy Garoppolo authored a nice little opening chapter as the new face of the Niners: Following his elevation to QB1, they went 5-0 to close 2017, after going 1-10 with Brian Hoyer and C.J. Beathard.

With Garoppolo at the controls of Kyle Shanahan's offense, the Niners averaged 409.6 yards and 28.8 points; without Jimmy G, San Francisco averaged 321.7 and 17, respectively. Oh yeah: Former Pro Bowler Matt Schaub and 2016 MVP Matt Ryan each struggled in their first season under Shanahan before enjoying career seasons in Year 2 with one of the game's top offensive minds.

The supporting cast on offense improved this offseason with the signing of RB Jerick McKinnon and drafting of first-round OT Mike McGlinchey and second-round WR-RS Dante Pettis. San Francisco also welcomes back from injury possession demon Pierre Garcon, 2016 first-round OG Joshua Garnett and intriguing RB Joe Williams and received nice contributions from Marquise Goodwin and George Kittle in their Niners debut seasons.

Robert Saleh's 'D' could progress quickly with the addition of Richard Sherman to a young secondary with promising Ahkello Witherspoon, Jaquiski Tartt and Adrian Colbert, and if it can get a full season from Reuben Foster, whose bright rookie flashes were obscured by a tumultuous offseason that ended fortuitously from a legal standpoint. San Francisco's front seven is loaded with first-round pedigrees, helping it improve drastically vs. the run a season ago (from last in the NFL in yards per carry allowed to 7th).

Pessimist view: Garoppolo probably won't finish his career undefeated (that would be a record, we're pretty sure) and now must survive under the heightened expectations accompanying his blistering start and record-breaking contact, which essentially promised him $10.5 million for each of his seven career starts. Indeed, it's a tiny sample size, and conventional wisdom suggests some bumps in the road await he and the Niners offense as defenses get an opportunity to learn his tendencies and weaknesses.

Unlike Shanahan, Saleh is unproven entering his second year as an NFL play caller, when clear limitations remain on his unit, perhaps none more concerning than a pass-rush void. Aside from DeForest Buckner and Jeremiah Attaochu, each with six-sack seasons before steps backward the following year on their resumés, no Niner has more than three sacks in a season. The Niners, 26th in sack percentage, desperately need big improvements from 2017 No. 2 overall pick Solomon Thomas and fellow former first-rounders Arik Armstead and Harold Landry if the front seven is to realize its potential.

Sherman and Foster, two of the defense's most important players, aren't locks to be on the field in Week 1: Sherman is trying to come back from a ruptured Achilles and procedures on both legs this offseason; Foster is a candidate to be suspended for his alleged offseason transgressions, despite avoiding criminal charges.

On schedule: With three of four to begin the season on the road, including Week 1 in Minnesota, Week 3 in Kansas City and Week 4 in L.A. visiting the Chargers, San Francisco's O-line better be ready to protect Garoppolo, and its secondary must brace for plenty of top-shelf pass catchers.

Perhaps it's a transitional year in the West, but Arizona and Seattle can't be overlooked, and Rams-Niners has the makings of the NFL's next great rivalry. San Francisco wraps up the regular season with a visit to the defending champion Rams and opens December with a prime-time clash at the Seahawks.

Prior to their Week 11 bye, the Niners play four night games in a five-week stretch: at Green Bay in Week 6, vs. the Rams six days later, then another back-to-back in primetime vs. Oakland and, after the "mini bye," vs. the Giants in Weeks 9 and 10, respectively.

They do play three straight at home, where the Niners are favored vs. Denver, Seattle and Chicago, before the potential NFC West championship showdown in L.A.

Prediction: Over

Although we're not ready to declare San Francisco as a viable Super Bowl contender, we can find nine wins. There's a bit more volatility than we'd like defensively, but they have the look of a dangerous offense set to light up scoreboards and a talented enough defense that will be forced to learn on the fly but could become an above-average group before too long.

Previous projected win total breakdowns

Arizona Cardinals

Atlanta Falcons

Baltimore Ravens

Buffalo Bills

Carolina Panthers

Chicago Bears

Cincinnati Bengals

Dallas Cowboys

Denver Broncos

Detroit Lions

Green Bay Packers

Houston Texans

Indianapolis Colts

Jacksonville Jaguars

Los Angeles Chargers

Kansas City Chiefs

Los Angeles Rams

Miami Dolphins

Minnesota Vikings

New England Patriots

New Orleans Saints

New York Giants

New York Jets

Oakland Raiders

Philadelphia Eagles