The NFL will announce the 2019 regular season schedule in mid-April, but we already know the San Francisco 49ers opponents for the coming season. Knowing the opponents allows us to get a handle on just how difficult the 49ers schedule will end up being this fall. Here’s the 13 teams on the 49ers schedule for 2019.
One thing we always see early in the offseason is a look at strength of schedule for each team. It involves taking 2018 records for each team and coming up with the overall win percentage for a team’s schedule, followed by a ranking of all 32 teams. CBS Sports was on it this year, and the 49ers come away ranked No. 11 with their 2019 opponents holding a .510 win percentage this past season (129-124-3).
The most important thing to take away from this is that while this measurement of strength of schedule is not 100 percent useless, its value on its face is limited. All 32 teams are going to undergo significant roster changes this offseason. Even if a team does not spend much in free agency, they are guaranteed to add some talent in the NFL Draft. Even if teams swing and miss on a lot of their acquisitions, that will still impact how the team looks and performs in the coming season.
That being said, I do like this in terms of looking at the 49ers slate of opponents and considering which teams will be improved next season and which will be worse. There is a whole lot of roster movement still to come, but I thought it would be useful to offer a quick initial assessment of each team on the 49ers schedule.
Seahawks (10-6): Worse — It’s not just the likelihood of losing Earl Thomas, but that could be a big one. I don’t think they’re going in the tank this year, but I don’t see them as better than 9-7 or 8-8 at this point.
Rams (13-3): Worse — They went all in this year and came up short of winning it all. They’ve got some big changes coming, and I see a decline in roster talent. They will still be (deservingly) the favorite in the NFC West, but I don’t see them finishing the coming season with a 13-3 record.
Cardinals (3-13): Better — Kliff Kingsbury may end up a disaster of a head coach, but assuming they invest the No. 1 pick on Nick Bosa or Quinnen Williams, this team should have a better record in 2019.
Falcons (7-9): Better — Few teams suffered the kind of injuries Atlanta did this past season. If they can revert anywhere back toward the mean in health, particularly on defense, they will be back in the playoff chase.
Panthers (7-9): TBD — A lot of this comes down to just what happens with Cam Newton and his shoulder injury. Good news has been coming out of Charlotte, but until we see him in practice, it’s hard to say what will happen. If he is good to go when the season starts, I see them improving on their 7-9 record. If he is not ready when the season starts, it could be a long year for Carolina.
Saints (13-3): Worse — Teams that go 13-3 usually take a step back the next season. The question for the Saints is what happens with Drew Brees. By the end of the season, he seemed to be hitting a wall. He’s still a quality NFL quarterback, but if he takes a step back from his elite level, the Saints could be in trouble.
Buccaneers (5-11): Better — I don’t see them being a whole lot better, but Bruce Arians should be able to give them a boost. The big question will be what he can do with Jameis Winston.
Browns (7-8-1): Better — I’ll jump on the bandwagon. I don’t know that the Browns will be a playoff team, but 8-8 or 9-7 would not surprise me at all in 2019.
Steelers (9-6-1): Worse — JuJu Smith-Schuster and James Conner will help them overcome the potential loss of Antonio Brown and the certain loss of Le’Veon Bell. That being said, those are big playmakers off the board. The Steelers will be in the thick of things in the AFC North, but I think the division as a whole tightens up near the top.
Ravens (10-6): Worse — They won’t decline much, but I am fascinated to see what the Ravens do with Lamar Jackson this offseason, and how the rest of the league responds after his up and down rookie season.
Bengals (6-10): Same — They have a new offensive-minded head coach, but I really have no idea what to make of the Bengals in 2019. Andy Dalton has limited upside
Packers (6-9-1): Better — I really like the Matt LaFleur hiring, especially given how the offense stagnated under Mike McCarthy. Aaron Rodgers does not have a ton of time left in the NFL, but he’s got enough left that they’ll be improved in 2019.
Washington (7-9): Worse — They need a quarterback in a bad way following Alex Smith’s devastating leg injury. They could have been a playoff team with a healthy Smith, but until they figure out the QB position, it’s hard to think they’ll improve on last year’s 7-9 record.