After finishing last season with five straight wins, expectations are high for the San Francisco 49ers in 2018.
Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo is the biggest reason for optimism in the Bay Area. He was acquired from the New England Patriots on Oct. 30, made his first start in Week 13 and turned into a franchise player over the final five games.
Garoppolo and the new-look 49ers will try to get the franchise back to the postseason for the first time in five years.
Here is the schedule San Francisco goes up against in its quest for NFC West supremacy, per NFL.com.
49ers' 2018 Schedule
Week 1: at Minnesota Vikings on Sept. 9 at 1 p.m. ET on Fox
Week 2: vs. Detroit Lions on Sept. 16 at 4:05 p.m. ET on Fox
Week 3: at Kansas City Chiefs on Sept. 23 at 1 p.m. ET on Fox
Week 4: at Los Angeles Chargers on Sept. 30 at 4:25 p.m. ET on CBS
Week 5: vs. Arizona Cardinals on Oct. 7 at 4:25 p.m. ET on Fox
Week 6: at Green Bay Packers on Oct. 15 (Monday) at 8:15 p.m. ET on ESPN
Week 7: vs. Los Angeles Rams on Oct. 21 at 8:20 p.m. ET on NBC
Week 8: at Arizona Cardinals on Oct. 28 at 4:25 p.m. ET on Fox
Week 9: vs. Oakland Raiders on Nov. 1 (Thursday) at 8:20 p.m. ET on Fox/NFL Network
Week 10: vs. New York Giants on Nov. 12 (Monday) at 8:15 p.m. ET on ESPN
Week 11: BYE
Week 12: at Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Nov. 25 at 1 p.m. ET on Fox
Week 13: at Seattle Seahawks on Dec. 2 at 8:20 p.m. ET on NBC
Week 14: vs. Denver Broncos on Dec. 9 at 4:05 p.m. ET on CBS
Week 15: vs. Seattle Seahawks on Dec. 16 at 4:05 p.m. ET on Fox
Week 16: vs. Chicago Bears on Dec. 23 at 4:05 p.m. ET on Fox
Week 17: at Los Angeles Rams on Dec. 30 at 4:25 p.m. ET on Fox
Garoppolo's run at the end of last season was enough for the 49ers to commit $137.5 million over five years to him as the leader of their offense.
It's hard to argue with Garoppolo as a franchise player, as these stats from Pro Football Focus' Jeff Deeney show:
Helping Garoppolo continue his evolution into one of the NFL's top quarterbacks will be a group of wide receivers that includes Marquise Goodwin, who had a career-high 962 yards and 17.2 yards per reception last season, and the returning Pierre Garcon after he missed the last eight games in 2017 with a neck injury.
The 49ers also used their cap space this offseason to invest in talent on both sides of the ball, which they hope will lead to their postseason window opening quicker. Center Weston Richburg and running back Jerrick McKinnon were signed to fill out key roles on the offense.
The biggest free-agent signing in San Francisco is former nemesis Richard Sherman, who was released by the Seattle Seahawks in March.
Cornerback was a position of dire need for the 49ers. They finished 20th or worse in completion percentage allowed (63.2), yards allowed per attempt (7.2), touchdowns (27), interceptions (10) and quarterback rating (93.9).
Sherman has been one of the NFL's most consistent cornerbacks over the course of his career, per Pro Football Focus:
As long as Sherman doesn't suffer any setbacks in his comeback from a ruptured Achilles, the 49ers secondary should have no problem making a significant leap in 2018.
With the Arizona Cardinals and Seattle Seahawks trending downward, the 49ers and Los Angeles Rams figure to be the two teams fighting atop the NFC West in 2018.
The Rams have gone all-in on this season by signing Ndamukong Suh to play on the same defensive line as Aaron Donald and Michael Brockers. They made a splash of their own in the secondary, acquiring cornerback Marcus Peters from the Kansas City Chiefs.
San Francisco and Los Angeles split two games last season, though the 49ers' Week 17 win comes with an asterisk because the Rams sat all of their key players in preparation for a playoff game against the Atlanta Falcons the following week.
Since the Rams are currently the measuring stick of success in the NFC West, the 49ers need to show they are capable of beating them if they want to win the division.
Outside of the division, San Francisco's schedule includes opponents from the NFC North. Two critical games that will show how far along head coach Kyle Shanahan has brought his team will come on the road against the Minnesota Vikings and Green Bay Packers.
The Packers, assuming Aaron Rodgers remains healthy all year, always figure to be one of the NFC's best teams.
The Vikings reached the NFC title game last season with Case Keenum as their quarterback. Kirk Cousins, who was often linked to the 49ers before they acquired Garoppolo, signed with Minnesota as a free agent.
In addition to being marquee matchups, the Vikings and Packers are also intraconference games that figure to have significant ramifications on San Francisco's postseason hopes.