On Sunday, the San Francisco 49ers kick off the 2017 NFL season at home against the Carolina Panthers. What is the Niners’ game plan for victory in Kyle Shanahan’s head-coaching debut?
San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan began mental preparations for Sunday’s game when he originally set his sights on becoming an NFL head coach, and well before he signed his six-year contract with the 49ers earlier this year.
Four years ago, Shanahan didn’t know his first opponent would be the Carolina Panthers, but he was well aware he would have something to prove in his inaugural game. Since Shanahan knows this game will be treated as an early litmus test for his coaching proficiency, expect the 49ers — and their coaching staff — to bring added intensity to their first game of the 2017 NFL season.
Aside from the obvious desire to win the first game of their new regime, Shanahan and general manager John Lynch have an added incentive to extend the 49ers’ six game Week 1 winning streak — the longest active streak in the league — due to the team’s early-season schedule.
The 49ers begin the 2017 NFL season with a difficult schedule. After Sunday, the Niners play five of their next seven games on the road, including three cross-country games that begin at 10:00 a.m. PT:
Even their two home games are problematic, due to a short week before their third game, and a Week 7 matchup against the NFC East champion Dallas Cowboys. Shanahan and Lynch know the 49ers will need to start the season out on the right foot, in order to accumulate a few early wins, before they reach the more manageable part of the season.
Unfortunately, the 49ers’ first opponent is far from a pushover. The Panthers had a disappointing 6-10 2016 season. But many analysts are predicting a stark improvement for the team in 2017, including Football Outsiders, who recently projected the Panthers to win the NFC South in their 2017 Football Outsiders Almanac.
Let’s take a look at the 2016 Panthers — including last year’s matchup with the 49ers — and the changes they made prior to the 2017 season.