Week 10: Monday, Nov. 15 vs Rams, 8:15 p.m. ET
The Los Angeles Rams may be the most improved team in the NFC West simply by nature of upgrading their quarterback position, trading for former Lions’ quarterback Matthew Stafford.
That said, in doing so they had to lose players in other positions, weakening places like the offensive line and in non-Aaron Donald or Jalen Ramsey ways on defense. Having those two players will always make them a tough defense to play against, but there are certainly deficiencies that could be taken advantage of.
And this we know: Kyle Shanahan seems to have Sean McVay’s number with the Rams having lost the last four matchups to Shanahan’s 49ers, even as the Niners finished 6-10 last year.
It’s fair to say that some of that was on Goff’s inefficiency under center, a problem the Rams hope they’ve dealt with by adding Stafford, but truly the last several Niners’ wins have been because of what Shanahan has done against the Rams defense, even with the Niners shorthanded.
All that to say, if the Niners are at full strength offensively, expect Shanahan to continue to have his way with the Rams defense.
Who knows, maybe he’ll have rookie Trey Lance as a major part of the offense by then, too.
Week 11: Sunday, Nov. 21 at Jaguars, 1 p.m. ET
The 49ers last faced the Jaguars late in the 2017 season when Jacksonville was on its way to the playoffs. The Niners won the game in Jimmy Garoppolo’s fourth start in San Francisco 44-33 at Levi’s Stadium.
It’s sort of incredible how far each team has come since then.
Garoppolo led the 49ers to a Super Bowl to cap off an impressive 2019 season a year after tearing his ACL early in the 2018 campaign, a season that itself was filled with high expectations in part because of what the job he did carving up an exceptional Jaguars defense.
Jacksonville hasn’t been very good since that year and were the worst team in the league in 2020, allowing them to select former Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence with the no.1 overall draft pick this year.
Lawrence should be well up to speed by the time Week 11 rolls around, but don’t expect that this will mean the Jaguars will be winning a lot of games in 2021, as their rebuild still has a few years to go even with Lawrence at the helm.
The troubling part of this game is that it will already be the fourth game with a 10 AM PT starting time the 49ers will have played in 2021 with one more to go. It could be a trap game, especially if Lawrence is playing well, but the 49ers should be plenty good enough to win this one without much trouble.
Week 12: Sunday, Nov. 28 vs Vikings, 4:25 p.m. ET
The 49ers beat the Vikings in the playoffs following the 2019 season, beating Minnesota 27-10 in Santa Clara. But the last regular-season meeting between the two franchises was in Minnesota, a 24-16 win for the Vikings in 2018.
That playoff win wasn’t even as close as the final score indicated, but with the situation in Green Bay in such flux, it’s possible the Vikings are thinking about winning the NFC North, not sneaking in as a wildcard team.
And there’s reason to believe that they could do it.
Quarterback Kirk Cousins continues to be a solid if unspectacular option at the position and Dalvin Cook is one of the more underrated running backs in the league.
But it still doesn’t feel like the Vikings will have enough to win this game in Santa Clara.
There are concerns, of course, given the run of Monday Night Football, traveling across the country, and then home for a Sunday afternoon game in successive weeks, but all things being equal, the 49ers should be the better team.
Week 13: Sunday, Dec. 5 at Seahawks, 8:20 p.m. ET
The 49ers lost both games to their rivals in 2020 but broke their years-long losing streak at what used to be CenturyLink Field with a 26-21 win over the Seahawks in 2019.
This matters a great deal, but also doesn’t factor in to whether the 49ers can march into Seattle and win again. And, in fact, I don’t expect them to do so.
It seems weird to say that the Seahawks might be the worst team in the NFC West and also call this a likely mark in the loss column for the Niners. But traveling to Seattle has been a difficult proposition, even for the best 49ers teams in recent years, and even if the Seahawks finish last in the super competitive division, that doesn’t mean their an awful team.
And unfortunately it feels like the winning streak will come to an end here.
Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 12 at Bengals, 1 p.m. ET
The last time the 49ers visited the Bengals it was their de facto coming out party as legitimate Super Bowl contenders in 2019, as they stomped their hosts 41-17 in a game that didn’t even feel that close.
Cincinnati is a different team in 2021, now led by 2020 no.1 overall NFL draft pick Joe Burrow at quarterback, who is now reunited with wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase, the Bengals first round draft pick in 2020. The pair were quite prolific in their time at LSU together, winning a National Championship.
This doesn’t mean that the Bengals will go from one of the worst teams in the league to playoff contenders, but it should make for a more competitive matchup than their 2019 game.
Much like the game in Jacksonville, however, the travel and early start time will be things the Niners will have to be aware of. Barring that, it should be yet another victory for San Francisco heading into the final stretch of the season..