Will the real San Francisco 49ers please stand up?
Are the Niners the struggling franchise that has finished with a losing record in five of the past six seasons? The team that lost seven of its last nine games a year ago and limped to a last-place 6-10 finish?
Or is San Francisco a championship-caliber squad, like the ballclub that held a double-digit lead less than seven minutes from a Lombardi Trophy in February 2020? The group that nearly won the sixth title in franchise history, which would equal the most any team has won in the Super Bowl era?
Fifth-year head coach Kyle Shanahan is hoping it’s the latter.
For the 49ers to climb back up the NFC West standings and earn another trip to the postseason after a subpar 2020 season, Shanahan’s offense will need to get solid play from its quarterback. But which quarterback? The decision between incumbent veteran Jimmy Garoppolo (who boasts a ridiculous .750 winning percentage in 32 career starts) and first-round draft pick Trey Lance (who led North Dakota State to a 2019 FCS national championship) could make or break the Niners in 2021. San Francisco didn’t choose a QB with the third overall pick to stash him on the bench for a couple of years, but if Garoppolo can stay on the field, he’s more than capable. After all, the 29-year-old is only 18 months removed from leading San Francisco to an NFC crown.
Whoever wins the long-term quarterback job should benefit from a healthy Raheem Mostert lining up behind him in the backfield. Mostert is one of the fastest players in all of football, topping 23 mph on one scoring play against the Jets last fall. However, he only saw action in half of the team’s 2020 games.
The 49ers return three Pro Bowlers from a year ago, including five-time honoree Kyle Juszczyk at fullback, linebacker Fred Warner, and left tackle Trent Williams, who earned his eighth selection (but first with San Francisco).
San Francisco opens the 2021 campaign with a pair of road games at 10 am Pacific Time. The 49ers start in Detroit on September 12, then travel to Philadelphia on September 19. The Niners’ home opener comes the following weekend at Levi’s Stadium with a nationally-televised Sunday night game against Green Bay and reigning MVP Aaron Rodgers. The 49ers are back on Sunday Night Football less than a month later for a Week 7 game against Indianapolis.
One of the most interesting weeks of the schedule comes in mid-November, as the Niners host the Rams in a Monday Night Football showdown on November 15 and then travel to Jacksonville six days later to face off with the Jaguars in what could be a duel of highly-touted rookie QBs (Lance and top overall pick Trevor Lawrence).
Four of the last six games come away from home, including a Thursday night trip to Tennessee just two days before Christmas. San Francisco finishes the regular season in L.A. against the Rams on January 9.
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