The NFL released its 2023 schedule, which means it’s time to wildly speculate about the fortunes of a season that will not begin for another four months. While I try my best to avoid any record predictions or major projections of how the year will unfold this far out, I do think it’s never a bad time to key in on some matchups that are sure to excite when the season rolls around.
I picked the five matchups that I am most intrigued by, starting with a holiday showdown against a former league MVP coming off a big pay day this offseason.
#5: Week 16 - Home vs Baltimore Ravens
Christmas Day and football, what more can you ask for during the holiday season? How about a matchup between two heavyweights with a chance for the 49ers to avenge their last second defeat in Baltimore during the 2019 regular season.
Lamar Jackson is always going to be a box office attraction you don’t want to miss, and a revamped Ravens offense is sure to provide a difficult test for a 49ers defense that has been among the best in the league over the last few years.
#4: Week 8 - Home vs the Cincinnati Bengals
Another matchup at Levi’s Stadium against an AFC North foe, this time with Joe Burrow leading arguably the best receiving corps in football, into Santa Clara to avenge a heartbreaking overtime loss to the 49ers in week 14 of the 2021 season.
That game was an instant classic, and we nearly got a rubber match in Los Angeles in Super Bowl LV. Instead, it will come nearly two years later in Northern California, providing the football world an opportunity to see an elite defense square off with one of the most potent offenses in the league.
#3: Week 13 - Away @ Philadelphia Eagles
Now, this might be the biggest surprise on this list, as I’d expect many to have this a top their rankings given the inconclusive result that came from a catastrophic NFC Championship game for the 49ers.
The Eagles are the team to beat in the NFC until proven otherwise, and on paper it appears they’ve done a tremendous job filling the holes on their roster left by numerous departures this offseason.
This matchup is sure to provide a fantastic litmus test for where the 49ers stand within the conference. However, the stark reality is, no matter how much they may be intent on proving things would be different with a healthy quarterback under center, there’s very little to no chance a week 13 victory can replace the loss that kept the 49ers from playing for a sixth Lombardi Trophy.
Given the difference in the stakes between those two games, I’m having a hard time buying into the “revenge/avenge” narratives here. It could be massive for seeding purposes for the NFC playoffs, though.
#2: Week 12 @ Seattle Seahawks
This brewing rivalry between the 49ers and Eagles may be the flavor of the month, but the bad blood between San Francisco and Seattle has been brewing for well over a decade. There may not be a day in the NFL regular season that is more iconic than Thanksgiving, and these two adversaries have the honor of being the nightcap on a day when millions of eyes across the nation are tuned in to watch this game we love so much.
These Seahawks are built to win now and appear to be in a fantastic position to challenge the 49ers for NFC West supremacy in 2023, with this matchup playing a pivotal role in how the division ultimately pans out. Everything starts with the division, which is why I think this matchup edges out another very important meeting with Philadelphia.
One of the lasting images of the heyday of this feud in the 2010s came on Thanksgiving night in 2014. The defining moment of the 49ers home stadium’s inaugural season was a handful of Seahawks players gleefully chomping on turkey legs at midfield following one of the most demoralizing defeats the team has suffered since moving to Santa Clara.
Nearly ten years later, the setting shifts to Lumen Field, where the 49ers have their own opportunity to author an era defining win, capped off with the player of your choice exuberantly indulging in a holiday spread on the 50-yard line of one of the toughest stadiums in the league to win on the road in.
#1: Week 5 - vs Dallas Cowboys
Now, there are a number of reasons why this is the most intriguing matchup of the season. For starters, this is one of the most iconic rivalries in all sports and any time you see the Cowboys and 49ers on the same field, it is certain to evoke feelings of pure elation, devastating heartbreak, and every emotion possible in between.
This rivalry eclipses all others for many members of both fan bases, and there is not a more hated foe for the majority of folks on either side, despite there being a bit of a dormant period in the rivalry prior to the last two seasons that saw these historic franchises' matchup in the playoffs.
However, that is not the reason why this matchup is the most intriguing for me. As many layers and storylines that can be woven into a meeting between two teams, the importance of this game boils down to one very simple thing for me.
I believe these are the two best teams in the NFC, and I think this game will hold more significance than any other when it comes to the head-to-head records that could potentially sort out who gets home field when the playoffs roll around.
No disrespect to the Eagles, but I think this is a year where Dallas is the team to beat in the NFC East, while also proving to be the biggest road block in the conference for the 49ers on their path to Super Bowl LVII in Las Vegas.
The Cowboys have an extremely talented roster on both sides of the ball, and will be sure to come in with a chip on their shoulder after having their seasons ended at the hands of the 49ers in each of the last two years. It being the 49ers lone Sunday Night Football appearance of the year is just the cherry on top for what should be one of the most exciting weeks of the 2023 season.