Coming off a stellar 2019 season, expectations are sky high for the 49ers Game as they head into 2020.
The innovative style of head coach Kyle Shanahan, a healthy Jimmy Garoppolo and a series of roster moves last offseason propelled the 49ers to their first NFC West title since 2012 and a trip to Super Bowl LIV.
Despite coming up short in the final game against the Kansas City Chiefs, they retained most of the key pieces from their roster and added two first-round draft picks with the hope of capturing the franchise’s sixth Lombardi Trophy this season.
San Francisco 49ers Schedule
Sept. 13: vs Arizona Cardinals, 4:25 p.m., Fox
Sept. 20: vs New York Jets, 1 p.m., Fox
Sept. 27: vs New York Giants, 1 p.m., Fox
Oct. 4: vs Philadelphia Eagles, 8:20 p.m., NBC
Oct. 11: vs Miami Dolphins, 4:05 p.m., Fox
Oct. 18: vs Los Angeles Rams, 8:20 p.m., NBC
Oct. 25: vs New England Patriots, 4:25 p.m., CBS
Nov. 1: vs Seattle Seahawks, 4:25 p.m., Fox
Nov. 5: vs Green Bay Packers, 8:20 p.m., Fox/NFL Network/Amazon
Nov. 15: vs New Orleans Saints, 4:25 p.m., Fox
Nov. 29: vs Los Angeles Rams, 4:05 p.m., Fox
Dec. 7: vs Buffalo Bills, 8:15 p.m., ESPN
Dec. 13: vs Washington Redskins, 4:25 p.m., Fox
Dec. 20: vs Dallas Cowboys, 8:20 p.m., NBC
Dec. 26 or 27: vs Arizona Cardinals, TBD
Jan. 3: vs Seattle Seahawks, 4:25 p.m., Fox
There don’t appear to be many questions for the 49ers coming off a 13-win season and a roster generally regarded as one of the best in the NFL.
All eyes will be focused on Garoppolo in 2020. He fared well in his first full season as a starting quarterback with 3,978 yards and 27 touchdowns.
After rumors the 49ers entertained the idea of signing Tom Brady, they decided to stick with the 28-year-old as their starter.
In the playoffs, Shanahan relied heavily on his running game in wins over the Minnesota Vikings and Green Bay Packers. Garoppolo threw a combined 27 passes in those two games and looked good in a bigger role for most of the Super Bowl. But the fourth quarter was a different story.
The 49ers’ collapse in the Super Bowl isn’t all on Garoppolo’s shoulders, though. The offensive line let Kansas City’s defense get pressure seven times on 12 dropbacks; the defense gave up 21 points and a crucial 44-yard completion to Tyreek Hill on 3rd-and-15 with seven minutes remaining when the Chiefs were trailing 20-10.
One key change to the defense is the departure of DeForest Buckner, who was traded to the Indianapolis Colts for the No. 13 pick in this year’s draft. First-round draft pick Javon Kinlaw will likely be his main replacement on the front four.
The defensive line was key to San Francisco’s success last season. Buckner has been an anchor for that unit since 2016, starting 63 out of 64 games over the past four years, and recorded 19.5 sacks over the previous two seasons playing primarily at defensive tackle.
Another significant challenge for the 49ers, compared to last season, is they have to play a first-place schedule. Per John Breech of CBS Sports, they have the fourth-hardest strength of schedule based on opponents’ 2019 winning percentage.
San Francisco will have six games against 2019 playoff teams, including the Seattle Seahawks (twice), New Orleans Saints, Green Bay Packers, Philadelphia Eagles and New England Patriots.
The Patriots game will mark Garoppolo’s first appearance at Gillette Stadium since being traded to San Francisco midway through the 2017 season. Since there are major questions in New England following Brady’s departure, that game may not be as difficult for the Niners as it once seemed.
One reason the 49ers had home-field advantage in the NFC playoffs last year is because of their success against top teams in the conference. They split the regular-season series against Seattle, with San Francisco’s Week 17 win at CenturyLink Field clinching the NFC West.
The 49ers’ two games against the Packers were one-sided affairs for the NFC West champs. They outscored Green Bay 74-28, including a 37-20 win in the NFC Championship Game.
One of the most-anticipated games of the entire 2020 season will be San Francisco visiting New Orleans. The two teams played a 48-46 instant classic at the Superdome in Week 14 last season, highlighted by George Kittle carrying three Saints defenders down the field on a 4th-and-2 reception to set up Robbie Gould’s game-winning field goal.
Since the Seahawks, Saints, Packers and Eagles figure to be among the cream of the crop in the NFC this season, those are the measuring-stick games for the 49ers if they are to get back to the Super Bowl.