The San Francisco 49ers look to be once again right in the thick of the Super Bowl race, and anything short of another deep playoff run would be a disappointment.
While it would be fantastic if the team could romp to a 16-0 regular season and continue that momentum until they’re holding the Lombardi Trophy at the end of Super Bowl XLIX in Glendale, Arizona, that’s unrealistic.
Rather, in order to win their sixth Super Bowl championship, they’re going to have to fight their way through some very tough matchups.
Let’s take a look at six of the marquee matchups the 49ers face this season—the big matchups that will go the furthest to determining whether San Francisco will overtake the Seattle Seahawks to win back the NFC West crown, settle in as a wild-card team or even miss the playoffs altogether.
The primary factor on this list is the expected strength of teams in 2014, but there are X-factors at play, as well—some matchups are bigger than others because of their timing or because of off-the-field considerations, such as the opening of a new stadium or a prime time showcase. Some matchups are just inherently more marquee than others thanks to the history between the clubs.
Without further ado, here are the six matchups that could make or break San Francisco’s 2014 season.