Kyle Shanahan and the San Francisco 49ers are this close to completing one of the most impressive turnarounds the NFL has seen in decades. After four awful losing seasons, the 49ers have been brilliant during the 2019 campaign, securing a 13-3 record and the top seed in the NFC. Shanahan deserves a ton of credit for what he's done with the franchise so far, but he's not finished yet.
Shanahan was one of the most sought-after NFL coaching candidates following his excellent turn as the Atlanta Falcons' offensive coordinator from 2015 through the 2016 season. It made sense when San Francisco quickly named him its head coach the day after Super Bowl LI -- after all, he was the reigning NFL Assistant Coach of the Year.
Shanahan's first two seasons by the bay were a mess. The 49ers were coming off the disastrous Chip Kelly era, in which they went 2-14 in Kelly's lone season with the team. In 2017, the they went 6-10 in Shanahan's first season and in 2018 they struggled to a 4-12 mark. The 2018 campaign was dramatically changed by quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo's season-ending knee injury in Week 3, but the rest of the team didn't make much progress either.
This year the 49ers have dominated under their 40-year-old head coach, as everything has seemed to come together at once. They opened the season 8-0 before losing an overtime game to the Seattle Seahawks in Week 10. They also suffered a road loss to the Baltimore Ravens that worried absolutely no one given how good Lamar Jackson's squad has been this year. The only inexplicable defeat San Francisco suffered this season was a 29-22 loss to a bad Atlanta Falcons team in Week 15. Other than that, the 49ers were excellent all year, and their three losses came by a combined 13 points.
San Francisco's improvement from last season has been exponential. Shanahan and his coaching staff deserve a ton of credit for that.
Shanahan & Co. start their playoff march on Saturday against the Minnesota Vikings. The Divisional Round showdown will be a big test for the 49ers to see if their immense regular season success will translate to the postseason.
A team built on an aggressive defense and a running the ball, the Niners may need to lean on more on Garoppolo as they advance in the playoffs. So far this season, Garoppolo has been up to the task. He finished the year completing 69.1 percent of his passes for 3,978 yards, with 27 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. His passer rating of 102.0 ranked eighth in the NFL and his QBR of 59.0 was 12th. He's been solid, but in the playoffs he might have to take a step up.
Shanahan will have to work his magic in the postseason. He has a young, inexperienced roster with a lot of guys seeing their first action in the postseason. It will be on the young coach to lead these guys forward. His players have proven how capable his players are all year, now they just have to take the next step.
If Shanahan play to their level over the next few weeks, we could be looking at one of the more remarkable turnarounds in NFL history. If not, this season will feel like a huge missed opportunity.