Upon the release of the 2022 NFL schedule, I predicted the 49ers, under then presumed starting quarterback Trey Lance, would win 13 regular season games and make some noise as a player in the NFC playoffs.
I was correct in my final win tally, but the how turned out to be as important, if not more so, than which games they won.
By the time the year was over, the 49ers had, in fact, won the predicted 13 games, but I couldn't in a million years have guessed that they'd use three different quarterbacks, trade for running back Christian McCaffrey, and possibly miss out on another Super Bowl matchup with the Kansas City Chiefs partially because quarterback Brock Purdy couldn't throw a football for three quarters of the NFC Championship Game.
And so it is with mild trepidation that I embark upon yet another season of prognostication regarding the 49ers schedule, which, like the rest of the NFL, was released Thursday night. I took a stab at guessing wins and losses soon after the 49ers' opponents were set in stone, but now it's time to look at the schedule as a whole.
The 49ers schedule for 2023 looks like this:
- Week 1: at Pittsburgh Steelers
- Week 2: at Los Angeles Rams
- Week 3: vs New York Giants (TNF)
- Week 4: vs Arizona Cardinals
- Week 5: vs Dallas Cowboys (SNF)
- Week 6: at Cleveland Browns
- Week 7: at Minnesota Vikings (MNF)
- Week 8: vs Cincinnati Bengals
- Week 9: BYE
- Week 10: at Jacksonville Jaguars
- Week 11: vs Tampa Bay Buccaneers
- Week 13: at Philadelphia Eagles
- Week 14: vs Seattle Seahawks
- Week 15: at Arizona Cardinals
- Week 16: vs Baltimore Ravens (MNF)
- Week 17: at Washington Commanders
- Week 18: vs Los Angeles Rams
No, I won't be diving any deeper than just game-by-game. Mostly because who would begin to think about things getting any more topsy-turvy than they did in 2022.
So, without further ado, let's take a leap into the 49ers 2023 schedule, starting with the season opener against the Steelers in Pittsburgh.
Week 1: Sunday, September 10, at Pittsburgh, 1 PM ET/10 AM PT
Pittsburgh having a successful 2023 will all depend on whether or not quarterback Kenny Pickett makes something resembling a leap in his second year. He showed flashes during his rookie season in his 13 games and 12 starts, but a negative touchdown to interception ratio is not going to cut it for a full season.
Running back Najee Harris has been solid in both of his NFL seasons so far, but saw a downtick in both yards and attempts in 2022. The offense as a whole lacked a lot of firepower last year and barring any massive upgrades, it will need to lean heavily on second-year wideout George Pickens to also take another step forward to carry the load. Pretty big ask.
Their defense, then, will have to carry the day as it has for several years now, with All-Pro and former Defensive Player of the Year TJ Watt leading the charge. He’ll again be joined by safety Minkah Fitzpatrick, EDGE rusher Alex Highsmith, and defensive tackle Cam Haywood along with newcomers in cornerback Patrick Peterson and defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi as they look to build another top unit in the league.
That said, if the defenses are both capable of making stops, it’ll probably come down to which offense can overcome the defense just enough. Count on the 49ers to be able to handle that a bit better than the Steelers.
49ers' W Record:
Week 2: Sunday, September 17, at Los Angeles Rams, 4:05 PM ET/1:05 PM PT
The Rams are a strange NFC West opponent.
It was only two seasons ago that they won the Super Bowl. Now it looks like they could be among the worst teams in the NFL.
So much depends upon the health of quarterback Matthew Stafford, who, if he returns from an injury-plagued 2022, could be back among the best in the conference at his position. But if the pain continues to linger, he could hold a Rams offense that still features wide receiver Cooper Kupp, back from success.
The defense, still led by All-Pro defensive tackle Aaron Donald, also lost key pieces in the offseason from a unit that struggled with the 49ers last year.
And there’s the rub. The 49ers have owned the Rams in the regular season and with LA seemingly punting on 2023, that should continue.
Week 3: Thursday, vs New York Giants, 8:15 PM ET/5:15 PM PT
The Giants got off to a hot start in 2022 before backing their way into one of the Wild Card spots in the playoffs. They beat the probably fraudulently 13-4 Vikings before getting smashed by the NFC Champion-winning Eagles in the Divisional Round.
The response to that year, one that surprised pretty much everyone, is to more or less run it back, which included signing quarterback Daniel Jones to a massive contract extension and re-signing running back Saquon Barkley to a big deal. They also traded for tight end Darren Waller, who after a breakout season in 2020, has played just one entire season’s worth of games in the last two years, slowing his production.
Defensively they’ve got some pieces in defensive tackles Dexter Lawrence and Leonard Williams alongside EDGE rusher Kayvon Thibodeaux. Still, by and large, this is a middle-of-the-road team that may have peaked last season given its personnel.
It could be that 2022 was a springboard to bigger things for the G-Men, but the more likely outcome is that Jones is what his first few seasons showed and didn’t suddenly figure it out, which means the Giants are going back to be mediocre to bad.
Niners win this one, maybe running away. The Thursday night of it all this early in the season shouldn't have a massive impact on the outcome.