Sunday, September 11 at Chicago Bears, 1 PM ET/10 AM PT
Poor Justin Fields.
Not only did he lose a lot of games in his rookie season (the Bears were 2-8 in games he started), but he was often running for his life beyond a bad offensive line trying to throw to one of the NFL’s worst receiving units.
And all the Bears did was let his best option (Allen Robinson) get away in free agency and drafting just two offensive skill players in the 2022 NFL Draft: Tennessee wide receiver Velus Jones in the third round and Baylor running back Trestan Ebner in round six.
To their credit, the Chicago front office did recognize the weakness of their offensive line, so they used four of their eleven picks on players to project Fields, albeit none until the fifth round.
From the outside looking in, the Bears appear to realize this is a long-term rebuild, having traded away Khalil Mack and stockpiling young players, but one thing is for certain: that is going to make year 2 for Justin Fields difficult as well. Mostly due to the fact that his skill position players are highlighted by guys like wide receivers Darnell Mooney and Byron Pringle, running back David Montgomery, and tight end Cole Kmet, all of whom would likely be no.2 or worse options on better teams.
It’s going to be another long year in Chicago for Bears fans.
All that said, the Bears should be a soft landing spot for Trey Lance’s first NFL Week 1 start, and the defense, provided it can tackle Fields, should be able to keep the Bears under wraps.
Prediction: 49ers win big
Sunday, September 18 vs Seattle Seahawks, 4:05 PM ET/1:05 PM PT
The home opener comes against an old nemesis, albeit a weakened one. And it makes for an easier start to 2022 for the 49ers.
Seattle is not going to be very good in 2022.
They weren’t all that good in 2021, although the 49ers did manage to find a way to lose to them twice last year, a telling statement about how division games can be the ultimate equalizer if there ever was one.
But the fact of the matter is that those wins came largely on the shoulder of one man who seemed to be a perpetual thorn in the 49ers’ side: now Broncos’ quarterback Russell Wilson, whom the Seahawks traded for a load of picks and players this offseason.
And so that means Pete Carroll will be riding a duo of quarterbacks that are at best seen as reclamation projects in Drew Lock and Geno Smith and a continued eye toward building the running game, as evidenced by their finally investing in an offensive lineman now that Wilson is in Denver. Neither strategy should rile up much fear in the hearts of NFL opponents, least of all the 49ers, who should be trotting out a defense that will be among the league’s best in 2022.
All that to say: it’s time for the 49ers to exorcise some demons of years past and really put a hurting on the Seahawks this season. If Seattle’s goal is to be as bad as possible for 2022, there’s no reason the 49ers should oblige them in that aim.
For the home opener, this is one of the more favorable matchups the 49ers could have gotten and it should make for a nice beginning to the regular season.
Prediction: 49ers win, annoyingly closer than it should be
Sunday, September 25 at Denver Broncos, 8:20 PM ET/5:20 pm PT
Just when 49ers fans thought they were getting rid of Russell Wilson, the Seahawks went and traded him to a team the Niners get to visit in 2022.
To be sure, Wilson is now in a much better situation than he’s been in over the last couple of years in Seattle, a team that leaned heavily on its former quarterback to pull magic out of the air to win games.
The same will not be said for the Broncos, who have a solid group of skill position players for Wilson to work with such as wide receivers Courtland Sutton and Jerry Jeudy and running back Melvin Gordon, although losing tight end Noah Fant in the Wilson trade will sting a little.
Denver also boasts one of the NFL’s better defensive units, led by cornerbacks Ronald Darby and Patrick Surtain II, EDGE rushers Bradley Chubb and Randy Gregory, and safety Justin Simmons, not to mention former 49ers K’Waun Williams and DJ Jones.
The Broncos, like the rest of the AFC West, are coming for the Chiefs, something the Wilson trade makes abundantly clear, but the question will be whether the quarterback will adjust to a new circumstance or whether his small dropoff in 2021 was a sign of things to come or an indication of how poor his situation was in Seattle.
Having the 49ers come to Denver will be a boon for the Broncos, as the riotous crowd and the thin air can do a number on the opposition. But it being early in the season means both teams will still be finding their footing, especially Wilson and his new team.
Prediction: 49ers win a close one
Monday, October 3 vs Los Angeles Rams, 8:15 PM ET/5:15 PM PT
The defending Super Bowl champs do not appear to be appreciably better in 2022, having lost key players such as wide receiver Odell Beckham, linebacker/EDGE rusher Von Miller, and offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth this offseason, all vital pieces to their run to the championship last season.
And, to be frank, the 49ers, in spite of losing to the Rams in the NFC Championship game, have still won six of the last seven over the Rams and were up 17-7 heading into the 4th quarter of the lone loss before falling apart in the final minutes of that contest and losing the right to go to the Super Bowl.
Kyle Shanahan is 7-4 against his old coaching buddy Sean McVay and that has to count for something, even though 49ers fans would gladly trade that season-ending victory in 2017 with Sean Mannion at the helm for the Rams for their win streak to be still intact.
Oh well. It’s another season and saying that momentum carries over in situations like this is obviously lazy analysis. The key question will be how the change in quarterback for the 49ers will impact this matchup, a statement that really is one that could cover the entirety of their season.
Given the start to the season, the 49ers will have, they should have had the right combination of easier teams to get them rolling and a stronger test in Week 3 to put them in a position to get off to a hot start. This game could go either way, as it’s two strong teams, but I’ll give it to the home team.