The San Francisco 49ers haven't had expectations this big since the mid-1990s.
To do that, they'll need most of their starters to meet expectations.
In the following slides, I'll give my expectations for San Francisco's offensive and defensive starters.
Note: All sack numbers via Pro Football Focus.
If one player has the weight of the 49ers on his shoulders, it's Colin Kaepernick.
He's only started 10 games (playoffs included), yet he's now one of the most well-known players in the league leading one of the best teams.
Doubters will say defenses will take away Kaepernick's strengths and frustrate him. That could turn out to be much easier said than done.
First and foremost, Kaepernick is already a great pocket passer. He led the league in adjusted yards gained per pass attempt in 2012.
He's also a dynamic runner. By rushing for 181 yards against the Green Bay Packers in the playoffs (an NFL record for a quarterback), everyone knows he's a threat for big gains when he keeps the ball on read-option plays. But it's his scrambling that's even more dangerous.
In other words, Kaepernick will hurt defenses plenty on designed plays, but he'll do lots of other damage improvising.
With one of the most innovative offensive coaching staffs in the league, Kaepernick should be primed for another big season. The Niners may run the ball more frequently early in the season due to their current injury issues at wide receiver, but as more of his playmakers get healthy, Kaepernick should put up more impressive passing stats.
Frank Gore is in a great situation.
The 49ers offensive line ranked No. 1 in Football Outsiders' adjusted line yards stat in 2012. All five members of the line are back for the 2013 season.
Gore will also benefit from Kaepernick's dual-threat ability. Defenses not only have to respect his arm, but they also need to account for him on read-option plays.
All this points to Gore at least repeating his 4.7-yards-per-carry average from a season ago.
However, at 30 years old, it's likely the 49ers will limit his carries more than ever.
Kendall Hunter and LaMichael James should both eat into Gore's 258 carries from last season. Although his total rushing yards seem destined to decrease, the lighter workload should make him fresher.
Expect Gore to top 200 carries and 1,000 yards for the seventh time in eight seasons.
With injuries and question marks at wide receiver, it wouldn't be a surprise for the 49ers to lean on the running game early in the season.
I'm sure Bruce Miller won't mind.
The Central Florida product has solidified his role as the first-string fullback after two consecutive seasons opening holes for the San Francisco ground attack. He's also contributed in the passing game, totaling 23 receptions in 31 career games.
Don't expect Miller's role to change much from what it was last season. The 49ers might line up tight end Vance McDonald in the backfield at times, like they did with Delanie Walker, but when they need a short gain on third and fourth downs, Miller will more than likely be on the field.
This is Vernon Davis' year to shine.
In San Francisco's past two playoff games, Davis combined for 11 receptions and 210 yards. Kaepernick is the best quarterback Davis has ever played with, so his stats should naturally spike by playing with the third-year quarterback for a full season.
But that doesn't factor in the Niners' wide receiver issues.
With Michael Crabtree and Mario Manningham out indefinitely, Davis and Anquan Boldin should be heavily targeted.
Expect the 29-year-old tight end to top his career high of 965 receiving yards in a single season.
Since 2005, Anquan Boldin has totaled at least 800 receiving yards in every season.
Expect that trend to continue.
The 11-year veteran won't burn defenders with his speed, but he's as good as it gets catching balls in traffic.
Kaepernick was guilty of locking onto Crabtree, San Francisco's best receiver, last year. With Crabtree out, Kaepernick could do the same with Boldin.
If so, Boldin could shatter his regular-season totals of 65 catches, 921 yards and four touchdowns from last season. I'm expecting him to have similar totals, with possibly a few more catches and TDs.
The team's official depth chart lists Kyle Williams as the No. 2 wide receiver. The question is, will he be healthy enough to fulfill that role?
According to David Fucillo of Niners Nation, Williams has been dealing with a hamstring injury that's kept him out of San Francisco's preseason games. He's also attempting to bounce back from a torn ACL he suffered in November of last season.
When healthy, Williams fits best as the team's slot receiver. Primarily filling that role in 2011, Williams ranked 41st in Pro Football Focus' wide receiver rankings (subscription required). Last year, he had two catches for 60 yards in his only full game with Kaepernick as the starting quarterback.
Expect Williams to be ready for Week 1 and make contributions as a slot receiver throughout the season.
Joe Staley was Pro Football Focus' top-rated offensive tackle in 2012 (subscription required).
That being said, he has some room for improvement in pass-blocking. He allowed eight sacks in the regular season, including three in Week 1 against Clay Matthews and the Green Bay Packers.
Expect Staley to continue manhandling opponents in the running game. We'll see if he's picked up any pass-blocking tips when the 49ers take on the Packers in Week 1.
Mike Iupati is a mauler.
The 6'5", 335-pound guard had the second-best run-blocking score in Pro Football Focus' rankings for 2012 (subscription required).
Entering his fourth season, expect Iupati to be better than ever before, building off his First-Team All-Pro selection in 2012.
It's only a matter a time before casual NFL fans take notice of Iupati's talent.
As Kevin Lynch of the San Francisco Chronicle put it, Jonathan Goodwin "is the composed one on the offensive line; he keeps emotional linemates Joe Staley, Alex Boone and Anthony Davis from melting down and drawing penalties."
Goodwin has been steady since his first game as a Niner in 2011, but he's also the oldest and most expendable starter on the line.
The 34-year-old, who is in his contract year, will likely play the majority of the snaps at center this season, but backup Daniel Kilgore figures to take the reins starting next season.
The 49ers hit a home run with Alex Boone in 2012.
In his first year as a starter, Boone solidified the right guard spot. He ranked third in Pro Football Focus' run-blocking score (subscription required).
Like Staley, Boone has room for improvement in pass-blocking. Boone allowed four sacks, which is a couple too many for an interior lineman.
The 26-year-old should only get better in his second season as a starter.
Like Staley, Anthony Davis allowed eight quarterback sacks in 2012. Some 49ers fans might be thinking, "That's because Alex Smith held the ball too long."
As it turns out, Davis allowed four of those sacks after Kaepernick's first start.
Overall, Davis had a strong 2012 season, particularly in run blocking. He contributed to San Francisco taking the top spot in the offensive line rankings by Khaled Elsayed of PFF.
Expect Davis and the Niners offensive line to once again be among the league's best.
Ray McDonald played in 90.5 percent of San Francisco's defensive snaps in 2012, according to Matt Maiocco of CSN Bay Area.
This year, the 49ers will look to rotate their defensive line more.
Glenn Dorsey may be listed as a nose tackle, but he may be better suited as run-stuffing 3-4 defensive end. He could give McDonald a breather on first and second down.
And on passing downs, the Niners could sub out McDonald on occasion. For example, they could insert Corey Lemonier and give him a shot at pass-rushing against a guard.
McDonald was an effective player in 2012, totaling 38 tackles and 2.5 sacks. He should only benefit from more rest in 2013.
Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio announced that Ian Williams is the starting nose tackle, according to Cam Inman of the San Jose Mercury News.
Williams will play a vital role on obvious running downs, but don't be surprised if he doesn't see the field that often.
Last year, starting nose tackle Isaac Sopoaga played in only 31.4 percent of San Francisco's defensive snaps, per Maiocco. The 49ers may say their base defense is a 3-4, but in reality they play more 4-2-5 nickel. In the nickel defense, Williams will rarely, if ever, be on the field.
Expect Williams to fit in just fine at nose tackle. Playing alongside the most talented front seven in football can't hurt.
Justin Smith was slowed by an arm injury at the end of the 2012 season, but the Cowboy looked plenty healthy in San Francisco's 34-14 preseason win against the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday.
He showed quickness when stuffing Toby Gerhart for a four-yard loss.
Smith figures to once again be a quality defender against the run, but will he improve on his disappointing total of three sacks in 2012?
Smith's days as a premier interior pass-rusher are likely over, but as long as he's opening up lanes for Aldon Smith, the 49ers pass rush should be effective.
According to Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle, Vic Fangio is confident Ahmad Brooks will not be suspended for an altercation he had with teammate Lamar Divens on June 8.
Though Brooks isn't the most important player on the team, the 49ers would be grateful to have him during their early season gauntlet.
Brooks ranked fifth in PFF's 3-4 outside linebacker score last season (subscription required). He's a decent pass-rusher, but his best skill is defending the run, which makes him a perfect complement to rookie Lemonier.
The third-round pick out of Auburn has eight quarterback hurries and one sack in the preseason. He could occasionally spell Brooks on obvious passing downs.
Brooks may not have as big of a role as he did last season, but he still should pick up a few sacks in 2013.
There are plenty of reasons why the 49ers defense is so effective. One of the biggest ones is the versatility of its two starting inside linebackers.
NaVorro Bowman and Patrick Willis are so good that the 49ers can hold their own against the run when playing in the nickel defense. Both are also excellent in coverage.
Bowman has totaled 140-plus tackles in two straight seasons. There's no reason to believe he won't accumulate a similar number in 2013.
As great as Bowman is, he wasn't quite on Patrick Willis' level in 2012.
Willis ranked No. 1 in PFF's inside linebacker score for the season, spearheaded by the best pass coverage score at the position (subscription required). With his speed and agility, Willis is practically an extra defensive back on passing downs.
It should be another ho-hum season for Willis with 100-plus tackles and 10-plus pass defenses.
Aldon Smith thinks he has the potential to better his 19.5 sack total from 2012.
I think he's right.
Remember, Smith had 19.5 with three games left in 2012. At some point late in the season, Smith reportedly suffered a torn labrum. It's hard to believe that didn't negatively impact his pursuit of Michael Strahan's sack record of 22.5.
The key to making another run at the record will be health. If he stays healthy for the whole regular season, he'll once again be near the top of the sack leaderboard.
Carlos Rogers is the No. 2 cornerback now, but his job isn't totally safe.
Nnamdi Asomugha has looked great in the preseason. According to Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle, he's allowed just one catch and a 39.6 quarterback rating in the three exhibition games.
And who knows how Eric Wright will fit into the picture when he's eligible to return from injury six weeks into the season.
Against three-wide receiver sets, Rogers will likely defend slot receivers. Per PFF (via Kevin Lynch of the San Francisco Chronicle), Rogers allowed a passer rating of over 120 at left cornerback and a rating of about 86 as a slot corner.
Rogers certainly isn't a top-tier cornerback anymore. But if the 49ers pass rush can take a big step forward, Rogers' numbers should look more like 2011 (six interceptions) than 2012 (one interception).
Tarell Brown has been the Niners' best cornerback over the past two seasons.
During that span, he's combined for 29 pass defenses and six interceptions.
Though he's clearly an above-average cornerback, some question whether he has what it takes to be an elite cornerback. As much as I like Brown's game, he's not the shutdown corner Richard Sherman is.
Expect Brown to have another productive, under-the-radar season as San Francisco's top defensive back.
Donte Whitner did not deserve his 2012 Pro Bowl selection.
The seven-year veteran was often a step slow in coverage. He ranked 53rd among 88 qualified safeties by PFF (subscription required).
This is a big year for Whitner. If he has a bounce-back season (say, double-digit pass defenses and four-plus turnovers forced), the 49ers would be much more likely to re-sign him. If not, they may look elsewhere after the 2013 season.
I'm guessing the 28-year-old strong safety will be let go after the season. The 49ers won't want to spend any money on him when they know they'll have to empty the bank on extensions for Aldon Smith and Kaepernick.
As I wrote two weeks ago, the 49ers need Eric Reid to shine.
Predicting how the rookie will perform seems like a futile exercise.
The first-round pick out of LSU has looked like he belongs during the preseason, but nobody knows for sure how he'll perform when the best quarterbacks in the league try to beat him with deep passes.
Don't expect Reid, who was announced as the starter on Tuesday, to have a major impact early in the season. Once he gets acclimated to regular-season NFL speed, he could become a force.