The San Francisco 49ers head into the 2015 season with a whole bunch of question marks. They have veteran talent and youngsters with upside, but they also have a new coaching staff, and a lot of roster turnover. The over/under on wins is set at 8.5, and there is plenty of action on the under. But many of us remain optimistic the team can figure things out.
Whether they do or not, this looks to be a fascinating season. The change means none of us really knows what exactly to expect when things get going. Sure, we might expect good or bad, but how it will happen is difficult to figure out. And so, it makes sorting through the best and worst games a little bit different than it might have been heading into the last few seasons.
Here is one man's attempt to rank the 49ers schedule from best to worst. Feel free to do the same, using whatever rules and context you want. All times listed are Pacific.
1) Week 1: vs. Minnesota Vikings (Sept. 14, 7:20 p.m. ESPN) *Monday Night Football
Given all the change this offseason, how can Week 1 not be the most interesting game? Whether you are optimistic or pessimistic, this first game gives us our first real opportunity to see what the Jim Tomsula-led 49ers will do. Sure we will have seen four preseason games leading up to this, but preseason doesn't tell us nearly as much as Week 1. A strong or poor performance is not necessarily indicative of the rest of the season, but it will start to confirm or contradict our previously held beliefs.
2) Week 7: vs. Seattle Seahawks (Oct. 22, 5:25 p.m. NFLN) *Thursday Night Football
The 49ers may or may not be circling the drain by late October. In spite of people proclaiming this team good or bad, there are just too many questions. However, for now this game remains high on my list. The 49ers-Seahawks rivalry advanced based on Jim Harbaugh vs. Pete Carroll, but there is still enough potentially on the line that it remains high on the list. Especially with the second straight season of a short week leading up to it.
3) Week 3: @ Arizona Cardinals (Sept. 27, 1:05 p.m. FOX)
Darnell Dockett making his return to Arizona? I was actually tempted to make this No. 2, just because of Dockett's sheer force of nature as a trash talker. This could prove to be a fairly huge early divisional matchup as well, but Dockett pushes it up further.
4) Week 4: vs. Green Bay Packers (Oct. 4, 1:25 p.m. FOX)
Colin Kaepernick has yet to lose to his early childhood team. We'll see if this is the year Aaron Rodgers and company snap the losing streak, but 49ers-Packers remains a fun rivalry. If the 49ers are anywhere near decent this year, this should be a good game.
5) Week 13: @ Chicago Bears (Dec. 6, 10:00 a.m. FOX)
Welcome to the Vic Fangio Bowl. The 49ers former defensive coordinator gets a crack at the offense he practiced against the last four years. The Bears have talent question marks on defense, so it will be interesting to see how they are doing by Week 13. And of course, this is a rematch of last year's game in which Jimmie Ward was torched by Brandon Marshall for three touchdowns. Marshall is gone, but Alshon Jeffery remains, and look for the Bears to add another receiver in the draft. Who will Ward cover?
6) Week 2: @ Pittsburgh Steelers (Sept. 20, 10:00 a.m. FOX)
Jim Tomsula's first road game as head coach, and it happens to come a few miles away from his birthplace of Homestead, Pennsylvania. The 49ers and Steelers are two of the most historic franchises in the NFL, and we get Ben Roethlisberger and Colin Kaepernick facing off.
7) Week 11: @ Seattle Seahawks (Nov. 22, 1:25 p.m. FOX)
This game could end in fairly ugly fashion, but we still can hope for the upset. The 49ers have not won in Seattle since 2011. The result of this game could push it to the bottom of the list upon review, but for now, I'll hope for the big upset in Seattle.
8) Week 6: vs. Baltimore Ravens (Oct. 18, 1:25 p.m. CBS)
The Torrey Smith matchup against his old team is interesting, although not quite on the level of Dockett and the Cardinals. The lack of two Harbaugh's drops this a few notches, but there is something about Joe Flacco that keeps me entertained. These two teams faced off last preseason, but this is the first game that matters between these two since the Super Bowl.
9) Week 5: @ New York Giants (Oct. 11, 5:30 p.m. NBC) *Sunday Night Football
The 49ers and Giants have played some highly entertaining games, with three of the last four decided by a touchdown or less. We'll get to see what the 49ers potentially new-look cornerback corps can do against Odell Beckham Jr.
10) Week 16: @ Detroit Lions (Dec. 27, 10:00 a.m. FOX)
This comes with the caveat that it may or may not mean anything for the 49ers, depending on how the rest of the season goes. That being said, the 49ers and Lions have played some fun games lately. The 49ers won the last two, and both were fairly interesting. I think we see another entertaining matchup, assuming the 49ers can figure out a way to contain Calvin Johnson.
11) Week 15: vs. Cincinnati Bengals (Dec. 20, 5:30 p.m. NBC) *Sunday Night Football
Others might disagree with the ranking, but something about the Bengals always strikes me as fun. The 49ers and Bengals have serious Super Bowl history, and that always sticks in the back of my head. This is also the first game between Andy Dalton and Colin Kaepernick. That doesn't mean a whole lot, but given all the chatter, it's a storyline.
12) Week 17: vs. St. Louis Rams (Jan. 3, 1:25 p.m. FOX)
This game could mean absolutely nothing if the 49ers complete the fall from grace many expect. Or the team could be fighting for a playoff berth. Either way, the 49ers and Rams have enough of a rivalry that it gets bumped up a few spots.
13) Week 12: vs. Arizona Cardinals (Nov. 29, 1:05 p.m. FOX)
This marks Darnell Dockett's second shot at his former team, this time in the Bay Area. It is impossible to predict what this game will mean, but the 49ers usually do good things at home against the Cardinals.
14) Week 14: @ Cleveland Browns (Dec. 13, 10:00 a.m. FOX)
Consider this in part due to being hopeful we see Johnny Manziel quarterbacking the Browns at this point. Beyond that though, Cleveland showed some things early last season. Unfortunately, they fell apart late, losing five straight and six of seven to close out the season. There's talent on this team, but they remain the Cleveland Browns.
15) Week 8: @ St. Louis Rams (Nov. 1, 10:00 a.m. FOX)
It's a rivalry game, but divisional games in the Edward Jones Dome always seem to end up fairly ugly. As with the other divisional games, it very well could mean something. But it's hard to tell what at this point.
16) Week 9: vs. Atlanta Falcons (Nov. 8, 1:05 p.m. FOX)
Atlanta sports just lack a certain pizzazz. These two closed out Candlestick Park two years ago, and this is their first matchup since. Both are coming off ugly 2014 campaigns. Maybe one or both bounces back, but I just can't get excited about this yet.