Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press
The Pick: San Francisco 49ers (12-3)
After coming within a few inches of the Super Bowl in 2013, big things are expected of the San Francisco 49ers this season.
However, some dark clouds have gathered around the team. Star linebacker NaVorro Bowman will miss at least the first six games of the 2014 season as he recovers from an ACL tear. Fellow linebacker Aldon Smith recently received a nine-game suspension as the result of numerous offseason run-ins with the law.
The 49ers offense isn't as short-handed, but in the preseason, the 49ers' first team had all kinds of problems scoring points. That can partially be attributed to the team's vaunted offensive line looking anything but elite.
However, if ever there was a Week 1 opponent tailor-made to get quarterback Colin Kaepernick and the 49ers offense on track, it's the Dallas Cowboys.
Dallas fielded the worst defense in the NFL last year. Now that defense is also without defensive end DeMarcus Ware (released), tackle Jason Hatcher (left in free agency) and linebacker Sean Lee (torn ACL).
Rookie DeMarcus Lawrence, who the Cowboys drafted in the hopes of replacing some of the pass rush lost by the departures of Ware and Hatcher, broke his foot in the preseason.
It's so bad that not only did the Cowboys trade for linebacker Rolando McClain (who was out of the NFL entirely last year), but McClain will start at middle linebacker for Dallas in Week 1.
That ain't good, folks.
Three of our panelists apparently think the Cowboys' potent offense will be enough for the team to eke out a win, but the 49ers are the clear choice of the majority of our experts.
49ers: Bowen, Davenport, Frenz, Gagnon, Hansen, Kruse, Miller, Schalter, Schottey, Simms, Sobleski, Tanier
Cowboys: Freeman, Hangst, McCown