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Golden Nuggets: The 49ers have a challenging stretch in the middle of their schedule

Your daily San Francisco 49ers links for Friday, May 14, 2021

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NFL: AFC Wild Card Round-Indianapolis Colts at Buffalo Bills Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

The 49ers kick off their rookie minicamp today. We won’t be on hand but will be sure to post the comments, pictures, and photos from the beat writers who attended this weekend.

On Thursday afternoon, the 49ers signed four more of their draft picks after Aaron Banks was announced in the morning. Four-year deals were announced for Jaylon Moore, Demmodore Lenoir, Talanoa Hufanga, and Elijah Mitchell.

As rookies arrive, 49ers top scout Adam Peters goes deep on Trey Lance, Talanoa Hufanga and the entire draft class

As for Lance’s lone game in 2020? How did the 49ers reconcile that he had perhaps the lousiest outing of his career, one in which he threw his only interception at North Dakota State and completed 15 of 30 passes for 149 yards? Peters said the oddball circumstances — and the fact that it amounted to a one-game audition for Lance — made it difficult to assess.

“It wasn’t his best game,” he said. “And there was probably as much pressure on him in that game as anybody in any game except for maybe the championship game. It was really a one-off. You can’t throw it out, but you can weigh it less, I think.”

“When it came to crunch time and he had to take the game into his own hands, that’s what he did. And he ended up making some big plays in the fourth quarter,” he said.

32 NFL staff predictions: NFC West wide open; Bills, Buccaneers, Chiefs unanimous champs

This looks to be the most competitive division in the NFL, with the Seahawks and Rams returning from last year’s playoffs, the 49ers hoping to return to form and Arizona still looming in Year 3 for Kliff Kingsbury and Kyler Murray.

Our beat writers covering Seattle, Los Angeles and San Francisco each picked their team to go 12-5 and win the division, creating the tightest three-wide race out of the eight divisions. San Francisco was the only team out of 32 to show up in four different spots on four different ballots, and the Rams won out here essentially because they were no lower than second on any of them, while Seattle had two third-place votes. This division looks to be best poised to produce two wild cards on the NFC side of the playoffs.

This five-game stretch could make or break 49ers’ season

The most-challenging stretch of the schedule, however, comes during a five-game stretch from Nov. 7 through Dec. 5. The 49ers face each of their NFC West rivals at the portion of the schedule which could determine the fate of the season.

Even the one “gimme” during that stretch is complicated because of a short week, an early kickoff time and a cross-country flight.

The 49ers open the pivotal block of games with matchups against the Arizona Cardinals and Los Angeles Rams at Levi’s Stadium on Nov. 7 and No. 15.

49ers’ Buckner trade still head-scratcher before Levi’s return

The 49ers crunched the numbers and opted to trade away Buckner. He signed a deal with the Colts that pays him $21 million annually. The 49ers have shown this offseason that there are ways to get around salary cap issues.

The 49ers currently have $18.4 million in salary cap space. And if they move on from quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo within the next two seasons, that will create approximately $25 million extra in savings.

In 2019, it seemed there were two players in particular the 49ers would do everything in their power to retain on long-term contracts: Buckner and tight end George Kittle.

Could Lance, Fields go head-to-head in 49ers-Bears matchup?

Even if Lance and Fields do not open the season as the starters, both teams figure to have specialized packages for their dual-threat quarterbacks. Their playing time could vary from week-to-week.

One natural spot in the schedule when a change could occur is generally following a bye week. The 49ers’ bye week is Week 6.

The 49ers come out of their bye week with an Oct. 24 game against the Indianapolis Colts at Levi’s Stadium, followed by the Oct. 31 game against the Chicago Bears.