Trey Lance’s time to shine is finally here. The media has peppered the 22-year-old quarterback with negative headlines week after week. Emmanuel Acho (systematic racism teacher) simply said, Lance “just ain’t it.”
Lance has ample time to show his worth and the only opinions that matter are the ones in the San Francisco 49er locker room. Will the second-year quarterback struggle? Will there be growing pains? Probably so to both.
The Niners have to face off against the newly crowned best division in the NFL in the AFC West—while they remain in a warm NFC West. This leads me to the topic we’re all here for.
I picked four games that will challenge Lance due to magnitude, tough atmosphere, a great quarterback, and/or coaches. The 49ers were a quarter away from the Super Bowl last year, and I doubt the expectations have been lowered.
We look at four games that could challenge Lance and the 49ers the most below.
Week 3 @ Denver Broncos
Lance has the opportunity to avenge his second-half Week 4 start against the Seattle Seahawks last year when he dueled against Super Bowl-winning QB Russell Wilson. Jimmy Garoppolo exited the game with a calf strain, forcing Lance to step into the line of fire. Lance finished with a 117.1 QB rating, but his uneasy play restricted him from keeping drives alive.
Wilson joined the rebuilt Denver Broncos with new head coach Nathaniel Hackett and former 49ers K’Waun Williams and D.J. Jones. Their home field, Empower Field at Mile High, sits at 5280 feet above sea level. The high altitude could take a toll on the Niners.
Inspecting Denver’s roster, Wilson and the offense will look to carry the load as he’s accompanied by loads of receiver talent. Denver’s defense will take a step back with the loss of former head coach Vic Fangio. However, their secondary remains a top unit—even with the loss of cornerback Kyle Fuller.
Week 4 vs. Los Angeles Rams
Kyle Shanahan possessed the upper hand on former assistant Sean McVay until the NFC Championship game last year. This game can be a tone-setter for the 49ers’ season. Punching the reigning Super Bowl champs in the mouth early can install the smash-mouth style football we all know in love.
Rams general manager Les Snead continues to work his magic with the NFC West flip of All-Pro linebacker Bobby Wagner. The signings of Allen Robinson can’t be ignored either. Worst of all, Aaron Donald’s guaranteed money boost doomed teams across the NFC West and beyond.
The heat is on Shanahan with Los Angeles bringing home the Vince Lombardi Trophy. San Francisco’s offense will be under fire with the Rams' fierce defensive line. Lance can insert himself in the MVP race early with an impressive win over an SB-contending team.
Week 7 vs. the Kansas City Chiefs
Lance can’t piece back our hearts from San Francisco’s Super Bowl 54 collapse, but he has a chance to outduel former league MVP Patrick Mahomes. Chiefs head coach Andy Reid will have some adjusting to do with one of the more electrifying players in the league departing to the Miami Dolphins in Tyreek Hill. The team brought in JuJu Smith-Schuster to help fill the void, but he isn’t half as dynamic as Hill.
This matchup has the potential to be game-of-the-year quality—two brilliant offensive minds attempting to find the edge against each other. Reid will likely try to attack the zone-heavy scheme, while Shanahan will want to put the Chiefs linebackers in conflict against the run game.
Playing in front of a home crowd should take some stress off Lance. However, my biggest concern for Lance against the Chiefs is him getting out of his element and wanting to do too much. It’s easy to see Mahomes perform off-script miracles and get away with stuff he shouldn’t. I’d imagine Shanahan controls this game with the run to set up some explosive plays with Lance.
Week 14 vs. the Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Tom Brady’s short-lived retirement shocked the NFL world in the offseason. Brady will forever be paired with the 49ers as he grew up a Niner fan. Not to mention, the 49ers ultimately passed on Brady after they reached the SB with Garoppolo.
Chris Godwin and Mike Evans could be a problem for the Niners’ secondary. San Francisco’s defensive backs look to improve on the explosive pass rate they gave up last year. Brady is known to carve any defense thrown at him, but San Francisco’s reinforcements at the corner position will allow them to run more man. This will limit Brady’s throwing windows and increase the chance for incompletion or turnover.
Todd Bowles’ promotion to head coach will allow him to be more aggressive than ever on defense. Carlton Davis, Devin White, and Vita Vea are joined by new Bucs: Logan Ryan, Akiem Hicks, and Keanu Neal, who all add to Bowles’ risk-taking defense, which won’t make things easier on Lance.
There is nothing Trey Lance cant handle. My main worriers for him entering the season are quicker decision-making and mastering the ability to slide. The growing pains will be there, but his upside gives breathing room. Lance has a great offensive and defensive core surrounding him and will rarely be expected to win the game by himself.
The notoriety of these teams will cast shadows on the 49ers as all four have won a Super Bowl in the last ten years. With that being said, I don’t think there’s any team that completely outmatches the Niners.