Updated Outlook for Entire San Francisco 49ers Schedule
One week into the regular season and the San Francisco 49ers already look as if they are poised to emulate the same kind of success they enjoyed one year ago.
Following the 49ers' 34-28 win over the Green Bay Packers in Week 1, fans and analysts both learned new things and were reassured of others.
All of the hype surrounding San Francisco has come to the forefront of the NFL. There are reasons why so many experts have been touting the 49ers as early favorites to win the Super Bowl this year. Many of those reasons were revealed in Week 1.
The running game, led by veteran Pro Bowler Frank Gore, should continue to be a factor in San Francisco's offense. While rushing for only 44 yards and a touchdown last Sunday, it would be foolish to discount his value.
The defense, long part of the 49ers' recent success, had its moments. Starting off against a high-flying and potent offense like that of Green Bay was a good test. Rookie safety Eric Reid looked sharp and both Aldon Smith and Justin Smith appeared to be right on track.
Then there was the Colin Kaepernick and Anquan Boldin connection.
Kaepernick to Boldin should be something that 49ers fans get used to in the coming weeks. Boldin was amazing, leading all receivers with 13 receptions for 208 yards and a touchdown. Vernon Davis also got into the mix and it is reassuring that he will likely be a major factor in the offensive game.
All of these signs, and others, bode well for the 49ers' prospects for a Super Bowl contending season.
However, the season is a long one. With only one game in the books, it is impossible to entirely predict what happens moving forward.
The 49ers will face a tough schedule in 2013. Opening up at home against Green Bay was no exception.
Out of the 13 different teams San Francisco will face this year, five are coming off playoff appearances. It is worth noting that the 49ers will have to face last season's surprise-story, the Seattle Seahawks, twice—a team that many feel has the best shot to thwart San Francisco's reign in the NFC West.
San Francisco's schedule will also be made tougher by the fact that two teams in particular—the St. Louis Rams and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers—made considerable moves during the offseason and should be considered viable opponents.
An interesting question will be how the trip to London in Week 8 to face the Jacksonville Jaguars will affect the team? Granted, San Francisco will enjoy a bye the following week, but the trip needs to be mentioned.
A tough schedule can actually provide a bonus to teams having expectations no shorter than a Super Bowl championship. In many ways, a tough schedule is something that should help prepare the 49ers for the long road that lies ahead.
It is also worth noting that Sports Illustrated's 2013 NFL predictions do not list San Francisco winning the Super Bowl, let alone winning the division.
After Week 1 however, those predictions may deserve some rethinking.
Regardless, here is an in-depth examination and prediction of the individual matchups the 49ers will have following Week 1 and continuing until the end of the regular season.
Week 2: 49ers @ Seattle Seahawks
Week 2: 49ers @ Seahawks
Date/Time: Sunday, September 15 at 5:30 p.m. PT
There is no shortage of stories emulating from the budding rivalry between San Francisco and Seattle.
Thus, it is appropriate that the 49ers face off against the Seahawks in Week 2 of the 2013 season.
This rivalry is becoming more heated, not just because of the two talented teams within the NFC West, but also because many experts are predicting that Seattle may be the best team that can thwart San Francisco's prospects in the postseason.
Both teams are led by dynamic coaches; each one has experienced success at both the collegiate and professional levels. Both have stellar defenses and running games. Two of the best young quarterbacks in the NFL will be under center during this game.
In many ways, both the Seahawks and 49ers are evenly matched. Both defenses ranked No. 1 and No. 2 in defense last year, respectively.
Last year, the season series was split between both teams with each franchise winning its home game. During the first matchup in Week 7, the 49ers running game and defense were the primary factors. San Francisco gained 138 yards on the ground and allowed only 251 total yards.
The 49ers won that game 13-7.
Yet when San Francisco traveled to Seattle in Week 16, it was an entirely different story.
The Seahawks trounced the 49ers by a score of 42-13 in a game where Seattle did almost everything right and San Francisco did virtually nothing.
How will that carry over into 2013?
First, quarterback Colin Kaepernick and the offense will have their hands full with one of the best defensive backfields in football. Seattle's reinforced pass rush should also be a factor.
In addition, Seattle limited the 49ers' rush yards to 82 in Week 16 last season, spelling further problems for the offense. San Francisco will have to figure out an answer for that as well.
On the other side of the ball, the defense will be very busy with quarterback Russell Wilson. While Wilson does not necessarily have the best receiving options surrounding him like many other elite quarterbacks have, he still is perfectly capable of getting the job done. His 26 touchdowns last season speak enough for that.
Oh yeah, and he is mobile, too.
Perhaps even a larger factor is Seattle running back Marshawn Lynch and the ground attack. Tackling Lynch is kind of like tackling a tank. Fortunately, if any team is equipped to stop the run, San Francisco is it.
Another notable factor for the 49ers defense is the fact that defensive end Justin Smith will be in the game, unlike the latter end of 2012. His presence on the field will be paramount.
The X-factor of course is CenturyLink Field. There is no questioning the home dominance that Seattle enjoys and that will play into Week 2.
Anyone who watched last year's Week 16 matchup will remember Kaepernick screaming the plays inside the huddle. Expect this year to be no different.
Seattle will not trounce San Francisco like it did at the end of last season. The 49ers will make it a closer game, but the edge still goes to the Seahawks for this one, and San Francisco leaves CenturyLink Field with a 1-1 record.
Prediction: Seattle 27, 49ers 20
Week 3: 49ers vs. Indianapolis Colts
Week 3: 49ers vs. Colts
Date/Time: Sunday, September 22 at 1:25 p.m. PT
Following their Week 2 loss, the 49ers will be hungry for another home win.
They will face off against a talented Colts team that went 11-5 last year en route to a playoff appearance.
Indianapolis quarterback Andrew Luck is developing as one of the top young stars in the NFL and there are few reasons to assume he will falter in his progression. Receiving targets like Reggie Wayne and the newly-acquired Darrius Heyward-Bey need to be stopped if the 49ers hope to move back to being above .500.
In order to do this, San Francisco needs to do two things. First, they need to get back on track with stopping the running game. Stopping Vick Ballard and the recently-acquired Ahmad Bradshaw will be critical in forcing Luck and the Colts offense to become one-dimensional.
When the 49ers are able to do that, the pass rush should take over.
Fortunately for San Francisco, the Colts offensive line has some holes in it. Luck was sacked a total of 41 times last year and there are few reasons to expect anything different this season. Here is where the playmaking abilities of Smith and Smith will find their value.
On the offense, the 49ers will once again turn to a favored element—the running game.
Yes, fans will be eager to see how Colin Kaepernick has improved as a passer as well as his rapport with the receiving corps. Yet the Colts secondary is pretty good this season and could be a factor if Kaepernick gets careless at any point.
If there is a glaring weakness to the Colts defense however, it lies within their run-stopping abilities.
As such, the 49ers will put a lot on the shoulders of both Frank Gore and Kendall Hunter in this game. The result will favor San Francisco. The game will look more like the games of the pre-Kaepernick era and will not feature a particularly high score.
Prediction: 49ers 24, Colts 16
Week 4: 49ers @ St. Louis Rams
Week 4: 49ers @ Rams
Date/Time: Thursday, September 26 at 5:25 p.m. PT
It will be a quick turnaround for San Francisco when they travel to St. Louis for Thursday Night Football against the Rams.
The last time the 49ers traveled east for a Thursday night game, it was against the Baltimore Ravens back in November of 2011. San Francisco looked flat in that game. Granted, St. Louis is a much shorter trip, but the Rams have a proven knack for giving the 49ers a tough time.
Expect 2013 to be no different.
Rams head coach Jeff Fisher was the thorn in the 49ers' side last year as San Francisco went 0-1-1 during the season series. One of the reasons behind St. Louis' success was made apparent by former Rams safety turned 49er, Craig Dahl.
Dahl revealed that St. Louis had a great understanding of what San Francisco was doing on offense, and it was a key reason behind the 49ers' apparent lack of scoring prowess during both games.
Certainly the 49ers have made corrections to alleviate the problem, but simply knowing San Francisco's intentions was not the sole reason behind St. Louis hampering the 49ers.
The Rams figure to be much better this season than they were a year ago. The 49ers can expect to see a lot of rookie wide receiver Tavon Austin, although San Francisco has a good chance of shutting him down if the pass rush is effective. Hopefully San Francisco's defense will not be too tired from the short week.
St. Louis will counter with excellent defense of its own, especially in the secondary. While the Rams defense was in the middle of the pack last year, for some reason they had San Francisco's number.
Cornerback Cortland Finnegan will again do his best to get inside of the 49ers' heads during the game and it may be effective. Expect St. Louis to try and hit Kaepernick hard and often.
What the Rams will hope to do is offset San Francisco's offense and generate turnovers. Obviously, this is going to be an element paramount to each opponent's scheme against the 49ers, yet the Rams have already proven they can do it given what happened last year.
There will be no overtime ties this year. Despite some brilliant offensive plays from Kaepernick and the 49er offense, St. Louis gets by in this one.
The 49ers will look a little flat on the short week and it will affect their offense. The defense will start off strong but will tire from being on the field too much.
Prediction: St. Louis 20, 49ers 13
Week 5: 49ers vs. Houston Texans
Week 5: 49ers vs. Texans
Date/Time: Sunday, October 6 at 5:30 p.m. PT
Jim Harbaugh and the rest of the 49ers will be mad after starting off the 2013 season 2-2.
The team will also be rested after an elongated week following Week 5 before taking on Houston at home.
The Texans are a hot story in 2013, yet they are not a team invulnerable to problems. The 49ers should have little trouble exploiting them.
While Houston should be a lock to win the AFC South, the team is by no means on par with San Francisco quite yet. Yes, they did have a number of nice additions during the offseason, including former Ravens safety Ed Reed, but there are enough holes that the 49ers can still attack.
Aside from Reed and cornerback Johnathan Joseph, Houston's secondary is not very deep. This is a scenario that may result in Colin Kaepernick finally utilizing his tight end Vernon Davis to a large extent. The mismatches that Davis could create in this secondary are scary to think about.
The 49ers will also look to get some of their other receivers like Kyle Williams and Quinton Patton involved as Joseph will most likely be locked in on Anquan Boldin.
In contrast to some of the other games on the schedule, San Francisco will likely get a little pass-happy during the game. Why would they do otherwise? Their passing defense was ranked 17th in the NFL last season and, although Reed helps, the 49ers should still be able to move the ball around.
If they can prevent defensive end J.J. Watt from making a significant impact, San Francisco's offense will be in great shape.
On defense, the focus will be on stopping running back Arian Foster and making the Texans offense one-dimensional. Fortunately, the 49ers run defense should be able to do this. They have already faced a couple of tough runners at this point in the season and should be well-groomed to equal the task in Week 5.
Getting pressure on Matt Schaub will also be a priority so that receivers like Andre Johnson do not do that much damage.
Considering the early start to the 2013 season and how Harbaugh can motivate his team, the 49ers come out in impressive fashion and dominate Houston over the course of the game. Davis has a huge day with nearly 100 receiving yards and two touchdowns, and the offense steamrolls the Texans.
Prediction: 49ers 38, Texans 16
Week 6: 49ers vs. Arizona Cardinals
Week 6: 49ers vs. Cardinals
Date/Time: Sunday, October 13 at 1:25 p.m. PT
With a decisive win against the Texans on Sunday Night Football under their belts, the 49ers will look to continue their two-game home stand against the lowest of the NFC West teams.
The Arizona Cardinals come to town with a new quarterback in Carson Palmer. Palmer is an upgrade over the myriad of quarterbacks Arizona employed last season and he should at least be able to give the Cardinals some consistency under center if nothing else.
However, Palmer will not be able to carry the entire Cardinals team on his back over the course of this season and in this particular game against San Francisco.
One of Arizona's primary concerns is how well they will be able to stop the pass rush, especially off the edges. Last season, the Cardinals gave up 58 sacks over the course of the year and do not want a similar repeat in 2013.
There have been some significant changes on the offensive line, including tackle Levi Brown and right tackle Eric Winston. Winston hopes to change last year's debacle as he stated in an interview published via ESPN's Josh Weinfuss:
Any time you give up a bunch of sacks you definitely don’t want to do it again... We’re going to do what we need to do. We’re going to go out there and play well. I’m not worried about what happened in the past. It was different coaches. It was different players. This is a new year, new regime for us.
Winston will have to put those words to the test of pass-rushers like Corey Lemonier, Aldon Smith and Justin Smith.
If Arizona's offensive line was good-to-stellar, San Francisco may not get the pressure they want. Yet plenty of questions still linger here, and the 49ers will have little problem getting to the quarterback. As a result, Arizona's offense will scuffle.
On the other hand, Arizona's defense is not that bad as argued by Michael Rushton of The Sports Network.
The additions of Jerraud Powers, Antoine Cason and Yeremiah Bell to the secondary, while also drafting linebacker Kevin Minter and defensive back Tyrann Mathieu, should assist in slowing down the 49ers offense.
Will it be enough? Probably not.
There are still plenty of holes on Arizona's defense—enough to be thwarted by a read-option scheme. It will be interesting to see how San Francisco exploits this. Expect them to do it early and often.
Prediction: 49ers 30, Cardinals 17
Week 7: 49ers @ Tennessee Titans
Week 7: 49ers @ Titans
Date/Time: Sunday, October 20 at 1:05 p.m. PT
It will be interesting to see former 49ers tight end Delanie Walker in another uniform.
That is exactly what the 49ers will face when they travel to Tennessee to take on a revamped Titans squad that made some significant moves during the offseason.
These moves were made, in part, to shore up a defense that ranked dead last in the NFL in total points allowed last season.
While the offseason transactions signify that the Titans are a team on the up-and-up, they are by no means in the same class as San Francisco.
Similar to the Week 6 matchup against the Cardinals, the 49ers are clearly the juggernaut in this picture and with back-to-back wins in their pockets, the ball is literally rolling forward at a swift pace.
This is another game where running back Frank Gore could pad his stats. Despite some changes and additions, Tennessee is still lacking against the running game and remains vulnerable in the air. Expect Gore to get off to a good start in this game. This will force the Titans defense to be honest and not take chances.
As that element progresses, Tennessee will become increasingly vulnerable to the passing game.
The Titans corners will not be able to keep up with players like Anquan Boldin and Quinton Patton. If they try and slide an extra safety over to add protection, this could potentially set up huge down-the-field plays from tight end Vernon Davis.
From a defensive perspective, the 49ers will focus on shutting down running back Chris Johnson. Is there any reason to expect that San Francisco will fall off against the run in 2013? The answer is still no at this point. Johnson may have a decent day, but do not expect him to crest 100 yards.
Facing his former team, Walker will probably hope to have a big day. Yet, as 49ers fans can attest, Walker is not the greatest receiver. Despite his varied skill set, Walker's impact will be minimal.
The only hope for the Titans is if they force a number of key turnovers and get a huge performance out of Johnson—neither of which is likely to happen.
Prediction: 49ers 28, Titans 16
Week 8: 49ers @ Jacksonville Jaguars (London)
Week 8: 49ers @ Jaguars
Date/Time: Sunday, October 27 at 10:00 a.m. PT
When the 49ers travel to London to play the Jacksonville Jaguars at Wembley Stadium, they will be playing perhaps the last of their "easy" opponents until the final game of the 2013 regular season.
The primary disadvantage for San Francisco is that they have to travel to London. The primary advantage is that they are playing Jacksonville. Oh, and Jacksonville will have to travel as well.
The Jaguars are in the middle of a complete rebuild and sadly for them, they will have to face San Francisco in an overseas matchup. It will be the epitome of a "David vs. Goliath" scenario between the two teams, and it is safe to assume that Jacksonville has little chance in this particular game.
If there is one thing Jacksonville can hope for, it is that first-year head coach Gus Bradley will be familiar with shutting down the 49ers. After all, he was the defensive coordinator of the Seattle Seahawks since 2009.
Yet the contrast between Seattle and Jacksonville is huge. The Seahawks could actually upset San Francisco in the NFC, whereas the Jaguars have so many missing pieces, their chances are nonexistent at best.
It will be a long season for Bradley and the Jaguars. The season will be made even longer by the London-bound game against San Francisco. The 49ers should have little trouble disposing of Jacksonville in Week 8.
Trying to figure out how San Francisco will dismantle the Jaguars is almost as difficult as predicting the final score. Needless to say, the 49ers could attack with the running game given Jacksonville's less-than elite front seven. San Francisco has enough weapons to defy any pass defense the Jaguars currently have.
San Francisco will not take this game lightly—the 49ers coaching staff would never allow them to do that.
Yet the matchup between these two teams could not be any more lopsided. The 49ers have the talent. Jacksonville does not. It is that simple.
The Jaguars lone offensive weapon, Maurice Jones-Drew, is coming off an injury-plagued season last year and has something to prove in 2013. Yet the three-time Pro Bowler cannot do it all on his own and that facet will show.
As a result, the 49ers have no difficulty with Jacksonville in Week 8 and easily defeat the Jaguars before heading into their Week 9 bye.
Prediction: 49ers 24, Jaguars 6
Week 10: 49ers vs. Carolina Panthers
Week 10: 49ers vs. Panthers
Date/Time: Sunday, November 10 at 1:05 p.m. PT
The Carolina Panthers will be a lot better than their 2012 7-9 record would suggest.
As such, they will still be overmatched by the 49ers.
Much of the San Francisco defensive game plan will center on shutting down both quarterback Cam Newton and wide receiver Steve Smith. Revitalized by the bye week and extended week following their trip to London in Week 8, the 49ers will be more than ready when they host the Panthers in Week 10.
Carolina's offense and Newton's quarterbacking style may be eerily similar to that of San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick. The difference, of course, is that Kaepernick has far more weapons on offense than those of Newton.
Despite Newton's mobility, the 49ers linebackers should be able to contain him well enough. Whether or not they use a linebacker "spy" technique, San Francisco's front seven are too talented to allow Newton to enforce his offensive prowess.
As a result, Newton will likely focus in on Smith or tight end Greg Olsen—who put up 843 receiving yards in 2012.
While both Smith and Olsen are legitimate receiving options, the diversity is not quite there yet. Teams with lesser abilities defending the pass may fall victim to the Panthers' offensive prowess. This will not be the case with the 49ers.
Carolina's only hope may be to utilize a four-receiver formation which would result in only one linebacker in San Francisco's dime defense. Then, Newton may have more of an ability to scramble.
The 49ers should also be able to thwart the Panthers defense during this game.
Despite a Carolina draft that focused heavily on defense, San Francisco simply has too many weapons for the Panthers' upgrades to make a significant difference.
While it will be nice to see how players like defensive tackles Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short play out in 2013, Carolina's defense against the run will still rank around the middle of the NFL. That is too low to stop a player like Frank Gore and the 49ers run block.
As a result, San Francisco may not have to resort to the passing game that much during this particular game. Gore and the running backs will do the bulk of the work in this one. As a result, the scoring may not be as high as other matchups. Yet this particular game will not be in doubt.
The 49ers should easily walk away with a victory in this one.
Prediction: 49ers 31, Panthers 17
Week 11: 49ers @ New Orleans Saints
Week 11: 49ers @ Saints
Date/Time: Sunday, November 17 at 1:25 p.m. PT
Last season when the 49ers took on the Saints, fans were entertained by dynamic offenses led by two great quarterbacks.
Why expect anything different in 2013?
This will probably be another shootout between quarterbacks Colin Kaepernick and Drew Brees. Both have valuable weapons on offense. Both have good offensive lines.
Sean Payton returns to the helm as head coach and has already instilled an updated culture within the team. That should be a bonus for the Saints.
For New Orleans, Brees will likely utilize receivers Marques Colston and Lance Moore early and often. In addition, tight end Jimmy Graham will be a big factor. Both Colston and Moore crested the 1,000 yards-receiving plateau last season, and Graham nearly did so.
Brees also has the ability to keep any offense in the game with his canny playmaking ability.
In order to shut him down and limit the damage—Brees will still get his opportunities—San Francisco's pass rush will have to play a big role. If they can hurry Brees out of the pocket enough and force him to throw early, the defense should hold.
Even so, expect Brees and the trio of the New Orleans pass-catchers to make some big plays throughout the game.
As a result, the 49ers will need to put together some of their own drives on offense.
Fortunately, the Saints have not been recently known as a team that can implement good defense.
While it will be interesting to see former 49ers linebacker Parys Haralson in a Saints uniform, how much will he and the rest of the New Orleans defense be able to stop Kaepernick and the offense?
Last year, the Saints gave up nearly 4,700 yards passing, which was good for 31st in the NFL. In addition, New Orleans was last in run defense having given up 2,361 rushing yards over the season. Despite the return of Payton, how good will defensive coordinator Rob Ryan's defense be in this matchup?
The door will be open for each one of San Francisco's receivers to have big plays.
Kaepernick should be able to move the ball through the air with great effectiveness against New Orleans. Frank Gore and the running backs should have similar success on the ground.
With these factors in place, fans can expect another shootout.
Even though they are on the road, the 49ers simply have more weapons where it counts. Their defense will be enough to limit Brees. The Saints defense does not have that capability.
As a result, San Francisco comes away with another road win. It would probably be safe to bet on the over this game.
Prediction: 49ers 37, Saints 31
Week 12: 49ers @ Washington Redskins
Week 12: 49ers @ Redskins
Date/Time: Monday, November 25 at 5:40 p.m. PT
The 49ers have been on a hot streak as of late, winning six games in a row and are 8-2 thus far into the season.
As much as I would like to say San Francisco adds to its streak—they should be able to handle Washington—the 49ers are due for a flop.
Sadly it will come on Monday Night Football against the Redskins.
The reason behind this lackluster San Francisco performance has a few different aspects. The defense, which has been a strength up to this point, has revealed some holes and one could expect that Washington's head coach Mike Shanahan and the rest of the Redskins took a close look at how to exploit the 49ers. They will pay close attention to what Drew Brees and the Saints did the week before.
Granted, many teams are going to take this approach versus San Francisco, but Washington will also benefit from the fact that the 49ers have played four out of their last five games on the road. While the bye week helps, San Francisco is due for a bad day.
This argument does not state that Washington's offense, led by quarterback Robert Griffin III, will manhandle the 49ers. Rather, this will be a game where San Francisco winds up hurting itself a few times over the course of the game.
As previously stated, the 49ers should be able to beat the Redskins on paper. Washington's defense last year ranked 28th in yards allowed and were horrible against the pass.
Further adding to this will be the possible return of injured wide receiver Michael Crabtree. Many reports state that Crabtree should return on or around Week 12, this bodes well for the 49ers offense. Yet how quickly he contributes and to what extent remains to be seen.
Colin Kaepernick and the rest of the 49ers receivers should be licking their chops in this one, but what probably ends up happening is a game with a few too many turnovers and a couple of costly decisions that result in Washington gaining an early lead and holding it late.
Griffin also shines this day having recognized some of the holes in San Francisco's secondary. Receivers Josh Morgan and Pierre Garcon may each wind up having good days for the Redskins.
The 49ers put up some good offensive statistics as well, especially through the air. Yet turnovers prove costly and San Francisco looks flat in general, coughing up a game they should have won.
Prediction: Redskins 28, 49ers 17
Week 13: 49ers vs. St. Louis Rams
Week 13: 49ers vs. Rams
Date/Time: Sunday, December 1 at 1:05 p.m. PT
Jim Harbaugh and the rest of the 49ers will be invigorated after the previous Monday's loss to the Washington Redskins and will also carry over the resentment of having been defeated by the St. Louis Rams in Week 4.
As a result, they will come back with a vengeance when they host the Rams in Week 13.
Week 13 starts a stretch where San Francisco faces four very tough opponents in a row. Fortunately, all but one of these games is at home, which further benefits the 49ers. However, Harbaugh manages to motivate his team—expect it to happen on an even greater level this week.
The Rams will not be pushovers once again. As already revealed this season, St. Louis is a vastly improved team in 2013 and a dark-horse candidate to win the division.
With that being mentioned, Week 13 will probably start out with both defenses slugging it out for a good majority of the first half. Most likely, there will not be a lot of scoring before halftime and San Francisco will utilize a lot of the running game to tire out the Rams defense.
As a result, Frank Gore and the rest of the 49ers running backs should have some good numbers during the game. Once the ground attack has done its job, San Francisco should open up its playbook much more. Expect offensive coordinator Greg Roman to do a great job of confusing the Rams defense and ensuring that the element of "knowing San Francisco's offense" is not repeated.
The 49ers will start to break away from the game in the second half. The third quarter will see an increased amount of the passing game which will again give way to the running game as the 49ers begin to use the clock.
Scoring-wise, this will not be a big day. Yet fans who like to see Gore and the running game should be in for a pleaser.
Look for Gore to break 100 yards, and it would not be a shock to see either Kendall Hunter or LaMichael James have significant games as Gore's backups.
The 49ers get back on track with an old-school, run-based win during this one.
Prediction: 49ers 20, Rams 10
Week 14: 49ers vs. Seattle Seahawks
Week 14: 49ers vs. Seahawks
Date/Time: Sunday, December 8 at 1:25 p.m. PT
It will feel good for the 49ers to have dispelled the Rams a week earlier. That should provide plenty of motivation to do the same to Seattle in Week 14.
The Week 2 loss to the Seahawks is still leaving a bitter taste in the mouths of the 49ers, and rest assured that San Francisco has circled this particular game as a grudge match.
That is exactly how it will play out.
Expect a few unsportsmanlike conduct penalties in this game. There will certainly be some pushing and shoving going on.
The keys to this game will circle around two components for each team: quarterbacks and defense.
For the 49ers, a key element will be limiting the abilities of Russell Wilson.
A lot of this is going to depend on how well the Seahawks offensive line holds up for the duration of the season. Entering 2013, there were some questions. While it is impossible to state how Seattle's offensive line will look in Week 13, there are some improvements. Can San Francisco overcome those?
If they can, the 49ers will be in excellent shape to force Wilson out of the pocket and have him throw early. Despite his mobility—which is a concern in itself—Wilson will have to deliver the ball downfield to keep San Francisco's defense honest. If he has enough time to do this, Seattle could win.
Expect the 49ers to come up with some schemes to make Wilson uncomfortable. Wilson does not necessarily possess receivers known for creating space, and the timing factor could be enough to limit their production.
The 49ers defense, specifically the pass rush, will earn its money here.
On the flip side, San Francisco will need to execute in a variety of different ways. Seattle still has one of the best defensive backfields in the game and the 49ers will need to find a way to defeat that. Perhaps some read-option packages will be in order—combined with a number of short and intermediate passing attempts.
One cannot overlook both starting running backs—Frank Gore and Marshawn Lynch. San Francisco can not afford to let Lynch run rampant like he did against the 49ers in 2012. Stopping, or at least limiting, him will be paramount.
Gore needs to get his carries as well.
Ball protection, so important in any NFL game, will be critical in this matchup. In all likelihood, this matchup will also not be a high-scoring affair.
The one clear-cut advantage that the 49ers will possess is home-field advantage. While remaining dominant at home, Seattle has struggled on the road thus far into 2013 and that trend carries over into San Francisco.
This NFC West rivalry becomes increasingly heated following another 49ers victory.
Prediction: 49ers 23, Seahawks 17
Week 15: 49ers @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Week 15: 49ers @ Buccaneers
Date/Time: Sunday, December 15 at 10:00 a.m. PT
San Francisco's second-to-last road game of the 2013 regular season will come against a team that spent all of the previous offseason retooling its franchise.
One of those faces will be familiar to the 49ers. Pro Bowl safety Dashon Goldson will have the opportunity to face his old team and square off against an offense he knows very well from his days in San Francisco.
Another notable addition will be that of cornerback Darrelle Revis, formerly of the New York Jets.
In many ways, the Buccaneers have done a great job in fixing a franchise that went 7-9 last season and ranked 23rd in points allowed. The upgraded defense will get another chance when they take on the 49ers.
The big question for Tampa Bay this season is whether or not these changes will be enough. Certainly the unit needs to form some sort of chemistry. They will have likely cemented that chemistry by Week 15, as opposed to their uninspiring performance against the Jets in Week 1.
As such, the upgraded secondary will still be relying on the Buccaneers' front seven to create pressure—an element they struggled with in 2012. Expect 49ers offensive coordinator Greg Roman to exploit this early and often.
Take Goldson as a case in point: San Francisco knows his strengths, and they also know his weaknesses. Coverage was not something Goldson particularly excelled with, and the 49ers will look to utilize plays that reveal that facet.
As a result, 49ers fans can expect big days out of players like tight end Vernon Davis and perhaps some receivers like Kyle Williams or Quinton Patton. With Revis likely to be focused on Anquan Boldin, other receivers can, and will, step up.
Tampa Bay's defense will also struggle with defending the read-option.
For San Francisco's defense, much of the focus will be on shutting down Buccaneers running back Doug Martin. Like with many of the league's elite backs, the 49ers should be well-prepared in making this happen. Do not expect Martin to rush for more than 100 yards in this game.
With the running game thwarted, much of the Buccaneers' offensive pressure will fall upon quarterback Josh Freeman.
How good is Freeman? He has his moments. Can he be a difference-maker against a team like San Francisco? Probably not.
Freeman looked pretty bad against the abysmal Jets in Week 1. If they limited him, imagine what the 49ers are going to do.
Expect San Francisco to force a number of turnovers in this one. Perhaps a defensive touchdown, or two, is in order.
Prediction: 49ers 24, Buccaneers 10
Week 16: 49ers vs. Atlanta Falcons
Week 16: 49ers vs. Falcons
Date/Time: Monday, December 23 at 5:40 p.m. PT
San Francisco may not have as good of fortune when they face Atlanta in a rematch of last year's NFC championship game.
Regardless, this Monday Night Football matchup will be exciting.
Since shutting down Ryan and the Falcons offense completely is basically impossible, the 49ers will be focused on limiting their chances. Unlike last year, San Francisco should be able to count upon a healthy Justin Smith for instilling the pass rush.
This will be effective, yet Ryan and Jones will get their points. As a result, the 49ers cannot afford to fall behind early.
Fortunately, Atlanta's defense does have some weaknesses. Last season they were ranked fifth in total points allowed but also gave up nearly 6,000 yards—good for 24th. If the term "bend, not break" applies to the Falcons defense, San Francisco has to end its drives in the end zone.
In addition, the Falcons made a substantial effort to upgrade the defense during this year's draft, further adding to the 49ers' difficulty to put together touchdown-scoring drives.
Atlanta did a decent job in halting the 49ers' running game last year and will try to do so again. That does not mean San Francisco should abandon it altogether, yet they will have to move the ball through the air to be successful.
This means big numbers for Colin Kaepernick, Anquan Boldin and Vernon Davis.
Will their production be enough to offset what will likely be a huge night for Ryan and the Falcons offense? Probably not, and it is fair to say that Atlanta gets the last laugh in this game.
Despite the 49ers' efforts to upgrade their secondary, Ryan will still be able to pick it apart in time. He is that kind of quarterback after all.
Look for a key drive or shift in momentum late in the game to be the difference-maker in Week 16.
Prediction: Falcons 34, 49ers 27
Week 17: 49ers @ Arizona Cardinals
Week 17: 49ers @ Cardinals
Date/Time: Sunday, December 29 at 1:25 p.m. PT
It will be bittersweet for the 49ers having lost their final regular-season home game at Candlestick Park, but the team can take solace knowing that they are due for another playoff game, or two, back at home following their 11-4 record up to this point.
They also can take comfort knowing they end the season against the lowly Arizona Cardinals.
By this point in the season, I expect Arizona's offensive line to be pretty banged up and for starting quarterback Carson Palmer to feel the rigors of a full season of sacks and hits. That is, if he is playing at all come Week 17.
Much like how San Francisco handled Arizona in Week 6, the 49ers should have little problem overpowering the Cardinals in Week 17. Yes, the Cardinals have had 11 weeks to prepare for this matchup, but the fact is that the 49ers remain far too good of an opponent for Arizona to contend.
With that stated, this game should not be a high-scoring affair.
In all likelihood, the 49ers should get out to a comfortable lead before too long. Running back Frank Gore will get some carries early in the game, but expect backups like Kendall Hunter and LaMichael James to shoulder most of the running work.
It is even possible to see players like Colin Kaepernick, Anquan Boldin and Vernon Davis take a break on offense at some point. The 49ers will begin to rest a number of their star players as soon as they feel control of the game has been achieved.
On defense, the 49ers will likely keep most of their starters in for a brief while longer. Yet even these guys should be expected to get some time off and rest in preparation for the playoffs.
As a result, San Francisco's offense should feature little of the elements that make it unique: offensive coordinator Greg Roman's play calling.
It is the one bonus to playing a weak team to wrap up the regular season.
Unless the playoff picture is not yet determined, or Arizona somehow manages to stay in the game, Week 17 may resemble more of a preseason game than anything else. The 49ers want to ensure none of their starters get hurt and give those guys a well-deserved rest.
Arizona, on the other hand, may be experimenting with role players and backups to see if there is anything worth evaluating during the offseason.
As a result, offensive coordinator Greg Roman's play-calling will likely be very simple aside from a play or two that San Francisco may want to try in the playoffs.
Fully en route and focused on the postseason, the 49ers make quick work of Arizona in the final week of the regular season.
Prediction: 49ers 21, Cardinals 10
The 49ers wrap up the regular season with an impressive 12-4 record, which is commendable considering they start the season 2-2.
On offense, Colin Kaepernick continues to showcase why he belongs at the elite level of NFL quarterbacks. He showcases a budding rapport with wide receiver Anquan Boldin as well as tight end Vernon Davis. The offensive line continues its dominance as one of the league's best. Running back Frank Gore, perhaps not as dominant as he was three or four years ago, still remains a critical aspect.
For the defense, both Aldon and Justin Smith continue to have a huge presence on the field. Yet the 49ers get some good looks at some of their 2013 draft picks—Cornellius Carradine and Corey Lemonier.
The secondary still has some question marks, which are exploited a few times over the course of the 2013 season. Look for teams in the playoffs to watch plenty of film regarding this. Rookie safety Eric Reid has some great moments, like he did in Week 1 against Green Bay, yet reminds us at times that he is still a rookie. The backfield will miss cornerback Chris Culliver at times.
At this point, it is anyone's guess which teams San Francisco faces in the postseason. It is only speculation whether or not the 49ers actually win the division given the level of talent of their division rival, the Seattle Seahawks. Yet a 12-4 record would be about as good of a chance to retain that crown.
While the 2013 season is only a week old, these predictions could easily come into reality. San Francisco has the tools to make this happen, and their schedule dictates that it is a possibility.
Only time will tell, though.
All statistics, records and accolades courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference.com unless otherwise indicated.
Peter Panacy is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report, covering the San Francisco 49ers. Follow him @PeterMcShots on Twitter.