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Looking at the 2019 Schedule, Who Should the 49ers Definitely Beat This Season
The San Francisco 49ers open the 2019 season with a much-improved roster compared to the 2018 season. Defensive additions like Dee Ford, Kwon Alexander, Jason Verrett, and Nick Bosa promise to improve the team on every level, while offensive additions like Tevin Coleman, Deebo Samuel, and Jalen Hurd will make the team’s offense more explosive and creative. With the improved roster, one would expect the fan base and team alike to be talking about playoff runs and a sixth Super Bowl title, especially after all of the hype before the 2018 season, but that isn’t the case. Expectations have been more realistic, with the hope of a 9-7 or 10-6 record on the upcoming season.
That record would be a huge improvement over head coach Kyle Shanahan’s first two seasons, which left the team with the second-overall pick two years in a row. One reason for the decrease in hype may be that the fan base has come back down to earth after Jimmy Garoppolo’s five-game win streak to end the 2017 season. Another reason is that the team has one heck of a difficult schedule ahead of them.
The 49ers play the Baltimore Ravens, Seattle Seahawks (twice), Los Angeles Rams (twice), and the New Orleans Saints –meaning six of their 16 games will be against playoff teams from a year ago. When you add in the Pittsburgh Steelers, who missed the playoffs by one game; the Atlanta Falcons and Carolina Panthers, who were both two games out of the final wild card spot;and the up and coming Cleveland Browns who finished the season strong and added Odell Beckham Jr, and Kareem Hunt to an already impressive offensive arsenal;then there is the Aaron Rodgers-led Green Bay Packers and one starts to see that there are not many gimme games on the team’s schedule.
Going by last season’s records, the Niners are listed as having the eleventh most difficult schedule in the 2019 season, but one could argue that it deserves to be even higher. Wins will be hard-fought, with only five games against four teams looking like automatic should win games. Unfortunately, two of those five games come in the first three weeks, when Shanahan’s 49ers have shown to be a slow starting team, improving as the season goes on.
The 49ers open up the regular season playing the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Bucs were 5-11 last season, winning just one more game than the 49ers. Their season was marred by inconsistent quarterback play with the team switching between an aging Ryan Fitzpatrick and an under performing Jameis Winston. Fitzpatrick is gone and Winston is the obvious starter at quarterback. With a new shiny new head coach in Bruce Arians and offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich and defensive coordinator Todd Bowles, the Bucs should look a lot different in their approach and game planning. It should be mentioned, that this is the exact coaching staff that led the Arizona Cardinals to a less the amazing record last year, leading to their dismissal and the Cardinals “earning” the first overall pick in the draft.
After losing defensive standouts Alexander (to the 49ers) and Gerald McCoy and offensive speedster DeSean Jackson, the Bucs lost a lot of talent on an already shallow roster, although the drafting of Devin White in the first round should help mitigate the loss of Alexander, but the rest of their draft was full of defensive players with question marks, a kicker, and a sixth round WR, so they definitely did not have the improvement in the offseason that the 49ers did. A still-shaky offensive line should get beat up by the ultra-talented defensive line coordinator Robert Saleh will be unleashing on teams the whole season. The only question mark in this perceived winnable game is whether the offense comes out clicking or not, but with the Bucs putting in a new defensive scheme this off season, the three-headed backfield of the 49ers should be able to control the tempo and the game and grind out a 49ers win.
Traveling from Tampa Bay to Cincinnati to play the Bengals in Week 2 gives the Niners an opportunity to start the season 2-0 for the first time since 2012. The Bengals, a 6-10 team in 2018, could quite possibly be picking first overall in the 2020 NFL draft. They finally removed Marvin Lewis from the head coaching position, but replaced him with Zac Taylor, an individual who has only called plays in five NFL games while coaching for the Miami Dolphins. The Bengals didn’t lose any big-name free agents, but they also didn’t add any big-name free agents, or even important small-name free agents.
The draft saw them pick up stud offensive tackle Jonah Williams, who they just lost for the season due to a shoulder injury. Outside linebacker Germaine Pratt should be a good pickup for them, but with a now unimproved or worsened offensive line and no big offensive target for quarterback Andy Dalton to use outside of wide receiver A.J. Green, the offense has not improved at all. The 49ers’ defense must be licking their chops at the possibility of rushing a very immobile Dalton. The defense should be able to contain the unimproved Bengals offense, giving the 49ers offense plenty of opportunities to rack up touchdowns and yards. The defense very well could have a sack party like their 2018 game against the Oakland Raiders, and might surpass their 2018 interception numbers in this game alone.
In Week 3, the 49ers play the Pittsburg Steelers, followed by an early Week 4 bye, a Week 5 home game against the Browns, and a Week 6 visit to the Los Angeles Rams. That makes Week 7, when the 49ers head to Washington D.C. to play the Washington Redskins, the next for-sure winnable game. Some people might argue that the game against the Redskins, who went 7-9 and looked like they might win the division before Alex Smith went down with his absolutely gruesome leg injury, is not an absolute winnable game..
Unlike the other two teams, the Redskins did improve in the offseason, adding safety Landon Collins and QB Case Keenum in free agency while drafting QB Dwayne Haskins, OLB Montez Sweat, and receivers Terry McLaurin and Kelvin Harmon. They brought back Adrian Peterson as their starting running back and only lost WR Jamison Crowder and OLB Preston Smith. So why is this game a close-to for-sure win?It’s because the 49ers have improved even more. With Jimmy Garoppolo returning from his own injury and the additions of Ford, Alexander, Bosa, Samuels, and Hurd along with the continued maturity of receiver Dante Pettis, record-breaking tight end George Kittle, and linebacker Fred Warner Jr., the 49ers should boast one of the best pass rushes in the NFL and one of the fastest most explosive offenses to go along with it.
Keenum has shown to be very Fitzpatrick-like, while Haskins is an unknown as far as how well he transitions into the NFL from the college game. Haskins has the skill, but that doesn’t always mean the performance happens. Rookie receivers usually have a difficult time adjusting to the speed and physicality of the NFL, so McLaurin and Harmon, both of whom could end up starting for the Redskins, also put their passing attack in question. Meanwhile, the 49ers’ offense is loaded with RB talent, speed and separation ability at the WR spot, and the league’s best TE. Their offensive line should return all five starters, something that doesn’t happen in the NFL all that often, and of course Garoppolo. This isn’t about the Redskins not getting better, it’s about the 49ers getting that much better.
The last two should-win games for the 49ers come against the Arizona Cardinals in Weeks 9 and 11. Arizona is starting their first season under head coach Kliff Kingsbury, which feels like the Chip Kelly hire of the 49ers three off-seasons ago. Kingsbury hand-picked Kyler Murray, who has all the talent in the world, but again, rookie quarterbacks are so unpredictable. The Cardinals did improve their offensive line by signing guard J.R. Sweezy and their defense by signing all-world linebacker Terrell Suggs and inside linebacker Jordan Hicks, but they also lost safety Tyrann Mathieu.
Even with the loss of Mathieu, the Cardinals might have improved their defensive backfield by drafting cornerback Byron Murphy in the second round and safety Deionte Thomson in the fifth. Putting Murphy opposite of Patrick Peterson sounds intimidating, but without a great pass rush, teams like the 49ers with lots of targets should be able to scheme open their third or fourth options against a less than stellar safety combination.
The Cardinals also added wide receivers in the draft in speedster Andy Isabella and jump ball pro Hakeem Butler to run with the future Hall of Famer Larry Fitzgerald. That’s a lot of talent to add in one off-season, but like the Buccaneers, they will be putting in completely new offensive and defensive schemes and Shanahan and Saleh should be able to game plan the 49ers’ talent into the right places to sweep the division rivals.
If the 49ers are able to win these five games and go 5-6 or 6-5 in the remaining eleven contests, they should push the Rams for the division title. Even if they split the two games with the Cardinals and beat the Redskins, Bengals and Bucs, while winning half of the remaining games they should at least be Wild Card bound, and in the playoffs for the first time since 2013.
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