San Francisco

Could Kelly's 49ers Go From Worst to First?

In the NFL, quick turnarounds aren't impossible; in 2013, Kelly's Eagles improved from 4-12 to 9-7 and an NFC East title

When the 49ers introduced Chip Kelly as the team's new head coach in January, CEO Jed York and general manager Trent Baalke said they believe Kelly is the man to turn the Niners around.

The 49ers finished last in the NFC West at 5-11 in 2015, but York and Baalke said they are convinced Kelly can be the catalyst for rebirth.

"(Chip) was the best fit for the 49ers," York told reporters in Kelly's introductory news conference. "He's going to be able to take us to where we want to go." Baalke added that Kelly is the coach to "lead this program into the future."

Kelly, meanwhile, talked about the 49ers' winning tradition and seeing five Super Bowl trophies at the team's headquarters. His goal, he said, is to win immediately.

"The goal is every single week to put your players in the position where they have the opportunity to be successful and then let them go play," he said.

But as the 49ers approach the start of training camp (the first full-squad practice is set for July 29), how realistic is it that the 49ers could be a winning team again in Kelly's first year? Many NFL analysts are predicting a tough road ahead for the Niners in 2016. One Las Vegas oddsmaker doesn't have San Francisco favored in a single game on the schedule this coming season.

And yet, miracles have happened.

In 2015, Washington went from worst to first in the NFC East, improving from 4-12 the season before to 9-7. It was the 21st team to go from worst to first in its division since the 2000 season.

One team that did it was the 2013 Philadelphia Eagles of Kelly, his first season in the NFL. In 2012, the Eagles finished last in the NFC East at 4-12. Under Kelly, they finished first in the division at 10-6, breaking a two-year playoff drought for the franchise.

Things can turn around quickly in the NFL, where about half the teams in the playoffs each season didn't qualify the previous year, according to stats compiled by SB Nation for a story the website published in June. Thirteen teams have rebounded from 4-12 to earn playoff spots the following season, it noted.

"It's highly probable that five or six teams that did not make the playoffs in 2015 will make the playoffs in 2016," it wrote.

So, a 49ers rebound -- based on recent history -- isn't impossible in 2016. Yet it certainly seems improbable for a team that doesn't yet have a starting quarterback determined, has question marks over its wide receiver corps and offensive line and has a defense that will be under tremendous pressure to be on the field longer than ever before in 2016 because Kelly's offense will run plays so quickly.

Plus, there's this: The NFC West ranks as perhaps the league's strongest division and the 49ers will face one of the toughest schedules. In a division with the Seahawks and Cardinals -- two projected Super Bowl contenders -- and a Rams franchise possibly energized by a move to Los Angeles and the addition of a young quarterback who was the No. 1 pick in this year's draft, Kelly's team will have its work cut out for it this coming season.

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