1) Who on the 49ers poses the biggest threat to Tampa Bay winning this game, and why?
Kyle Shanahan. He’s got the reputation he does for a reason, and while he hasn’t seen exactly what this Buccaneers defense can do, he’s been around the game of football enough and is smart enough that he’ll have plenty of counters to pull out once he sees how Todd Bowles plans to stifle his offense.
2) What is the Bucs biggest advantage in this game?
Early on, the Bucs’ advantage will come on defense. While Shanahan is well equipped to counter what Tampa Bay throws at his offense, his quarterback is less experienced and less established. Jimmy Garoppolo’s ability to execute Shanahan’s adjustments are where the problems will exist if they do, and this Buccaneers defense is designed to take advantage of those problems when they arise.
As the game pushes forward though, the strength of the Buccaneers’ offensive weapons is going to be what gets them to the finish line in Week 1. Mike Evans has a strong past when facing Richard Sherman, and San Francisco is going to have to pay special attention to No. 13. The ripple effect of this is how it frees up space for Chris Godwin and O.J. Howard specifically to operate and face lesser coverage as a result.
3) What are the expectations for Tampa Bay this season?
Expectations are the team will compete for a playoff spot. Jameis Winston has shown improvement as a game manager, but he hasn’t had the chance yet to show consistently smart decision making to give everyone a ‘warm and fuzzy’ feeling just yet. The defense has been impressive, but they’re very young and unproven as well.
There are high hopes surrounding what the team can become, but the fan base has been hurt too many times by hyped-up Bucs squads in recent years to allow themselves to reach the same excitement levels.
If Bruce Arians, Todd Bowles, and Byron Leftwich get this team off to a hot start early though, then the fan base’s excitement levels will climb quickly.
4) Is there any chance the 49ers can stop Mike Evans?
Stop him? No. Contain him? Sure. But it’s going to take a village. Richard Sherman alone won’t do it. If the 49ers defense keeps Mike under 75-yards with no touchdowns, then it’s a moral victory. Problem is, the resources they’ll have to dedicate to do it are going to open up opportunities for some of those other offensive weapons we touched on earlier.
5) Score prediction
My score prediction is 28-21, Tampa Bay. Winston and his offense have a lot more continuity coming into this game than Garoppolo and his crew. Couple this with the lack of real studying Jimmy G can do ahead of time, and it’s just not set up for him and his offense to get a strong start in this one.
Outside of an early splash play on a blown defensive assignment, I don’t expect the 49ers will do much offensively in the early going. This is when the Buccaneers need to jump out to an early lead and force Shanahan into narrowing his own strategies playing from behind.
This feels like a game where both teams will be trading punches (touchdowns) from around the second quarter on, but Tampa gets the win thanks to a better start to the game.