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3 reasons the 49ers might lose to the Carolina Panthers

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The 49ers are underdogs, and while we want to see them win, plenty could go wrong.

NFL: Carolina Panthers at Jacksonville Jaguars Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

The San Francisco 49ers host the Carolina Panthers on Sunday, hoping to extend a six-game winning streak in season opening games. The 49ers are a 5.5-point underdog, but as we saw Thursday evening, and we have seen the past two seasons, plenty of craziness can happen the first week of the season.

While we all have reasons we think the 49ers will beat the Panthers, it is worth considering the weaknesses of the 49ers as well. The past couple years, we’ve done a weekly article with the opposing blog looking at why our own team might lose the game. It seems a little more likely for the 49ers than the Panthers, but it is still a useful exercise looking at weaknesses. You can head over to Cat Scratch Reader to see what they had to say about a potential Panthers loss.

Christian McCaffrey is too difficult for the linebackers to cover

We’ve heard so much about the Panthers rookie running back and how talented he is. The Panthers will use him in a variety of roles, and this could expose the 49ers quickly. As a receiver out of the backfield in particular is where things could get tough.

The 49ers linebackers will include NaVorro Bowman, Reuben Foster, and Eli Harold. There is a lot of talent in that trio, but question marks for all three. Foster is a rookie, and Harold is making his regular starting debut. Meanwhile, Bowman is coming off his second major leg injury. This will be a test of Bowman’s athleticism, but I am also curious to see if the Panthers gameplan against Foster’s aggressive nature. Foster is a quick study, but one notable mistake covering McCaffrey, and the latter could be off to the races.

The offensive line is not gelling yet

The 49ers had a handle on their starting tackles and center early in training camp. However, the guard position has been up in the air. Joshua Garnett and Brandon were starting early in camp, but a knee injury sidelined Garnett for the season. Zane Beadles moved into his left tackle role. The guards struggled during the preseason, and on August 31, the 49ers acquired Laken Tomlinson in a trade with the Detroit Lions. Tomlinson is unlikely to start Week 1, but will likely replace Beadles sooner rather than later.

Even with settled tackle and center situations, the line could take time to gel. The longer it takes, the slower this offense will be out of the gate. Kyle Shanahan is a great game-planner, but poor o-line performance would lead to considerably inconsistency early in the season.

The secondary struggles

The 49ers have made huge changes in the secondary. Eric Reid moved from free safety to strong safety, Jimmie Ward moved to free safety but is unlikely to play on Sunday, Rashard Robinson went from nickel back to No. 1 cornerback, Dontae Johnson appears to be back in the starting lineup, and free agent addition K’Waun Williams has taken over the nickel role. Oh, and the 49ers are instituting significant changes to the defense, including more press coverage.

All of this is to say, nothing is what it was last year, and that means the whole thing is a mystery. There is a lot of intriguing talent among the cornerbacks, but Rashard Robinson in particular struggled with consistency in the preseason. The free safety position remains a big question with Ward unlikely to play, and either Jaquiski Tartt or UDFA Lorenzo Jerome getting the start. Eric Reid seems to be the only sure thing, settling into the strong safety role quite well throughout the preseason. But if the rest of the group struggles, Cam Newton could find himself with plenty of open targets down the field.