The 2015 NFL schedule came out on Tuesday, and the marquis matchups were displayed for all to see.
For the San Francisco 49ers, it was yet another sign of what lay ahead of them, in the midst of their toughest offseason since the days of Tim Rattay and Dennis Erickson. With all of the coaching turnover and key players leaving/retiring, 2015 will serve as their first test without former head coach Jim Harbaugh, franchise RB Frank Gore and defensive leader Patrick Willis. And, despite the fact that they will have the league’s third-toughest schedule, there is no doubt that fans and the media alike will scrutinize every win and loss for Jim Tomsula’s crew this coming Fall.
That doesn’t mean that the 49ers’ coming matchups will be any less intriguing. From memorable rematches to eye-catching storylines, San Francisco will play an interesting schedule, no matter what record they end up with.
With that in mind, here are my observations of the 2015 San Francisco 49ers regular season schedule:
1) Starting out the season on their only Monday Night Football game. After the complete structural overhaul the 49ers saw in the coaching staff, it’s still a little head-scratching that the league office would still feature them on a Monday Night game – let alone on the first week of the season.
Nonetheless, Jim Tomsula’s first game as head coach since 2010 will be on the late-night marquis against the Vikings – a team going through their own bit of turmoil, still trying to sort out the Adrian Peterson PR mess. Can a yet-again revamped 49ers offense make any noise against a vastly-improved Vikings defense? 49ers Faithful will watch intently to find out, along with the rest of the country.
2) The “Jim Harbaugh Championship Bad Memory Lane” Tour. Sure, it’s not very catchy, but consecutive matchups against the New York Giants (Week 5), Baltimore Ravens (Week 6) and Seattle Seahawks (Week 7) reads like a textbook of the last three opponents the 49ers lost to in the postseason – namely, the 2011 NFC Championship, Super Bowl XLVII and the 2013 NFC Championship, respectively.
(NOTE: DO NOT click the above links if you’re still sore over those losses.)
It starts with a repeat of last year’s matchup in the Meadowlands with the G-Men – a game that put LB Chris Borland on the map (12 total tackles, 2 INTs as Defensive Player of the Week).
Jim Harbaugh’s AFC foil in brother John and the Ravens visit Levi’s Stadium the next week – a team that will see both Super Bowl-winning WRs from their 2012 squad (Anquan Boldin, Torrey Smith) lined up against them.
The fun doesn’t end there, as the 49ers will look to seek revenge over their infamous Thanksgiving loss to rival Seattle – a team that has, for the most part, owned San Francisco over the past two seasons.
3) A trip of his own down Memory Lane for Coach Tomsula. Once upon a time, a struggling 5-10 49ers organization fired head coach Mike Singletary, a week before the end of the 2010 regular season. Enter beloved defensive line coach Jim Tomsula, who served as interim for the team’s final game. Despite all the turmoil San Francisco had suffered that season, the beleaguered red-and-gold rallied around Tomsula, and won by a decisive 38-7 margin. The team they beat? The Arizona Cardinals – who just happen to be their opponent for Week 3.
(A team, by the way, that the 49ers beat in their final game of 2014 – a game that heralded the end of the Jim Harbaugh era. Funny how that works, isn’t it?)
But that isn’t the only game that will bring a sense of nostalgia for Coach Tom – the previous week will bring the 49ers to Heinz Field for a matchup against the Steelers. Tomsula, a Pittsburgh native, grew up a Steelers fan – now, in only his third official game as head coach, he will face off against his favorite childhood team.
4) Week 13 at Chicago will be nostalgic for reasons both good and bad. It’s nice to look back where your wunderkind talents got their start, and who they got their starts against. Of course, I’m talking about 49ers QB Colin Kaepernick – after a concussion sent incumbent starter Alex Smith to the sidelines, Kaepernick had his coming-out party against the Chicago Bears at Candlestick Park. He racked up 243 passing yards and 2 TDs in a 32-7 victory.
However, many 49ers fans will also remember the much-beleaguered 49ers coaching search of 2014. They were likely clamoring for in-house defensive coordinator Vic Fangio – a man who helped lead the unit to Top-5 rankings at the height of their success. Another popular choice was Denver Broncos offensive coordinator Adam Gase – a man who helped guide Peyton Manning’s high-flying attack. Both ended up as the Chicago Bears’ defensive and offensive coordinators, respectively, under new head coach John Fox. It will be a most awkward reunion for the new 49ers head coach and Bears DC, indeed.
Don’t forget, too, that it was the Bears that spoiled the 49ers’ inaugural regular season game at Levi’s Stadium. It will be interesting to see what Fangio – and disgraced former DE Ray McDonald – will have in store for San Francisco.
5) Mr. Rodgers … We Meet Again. October 4th, in Week 4, will be the first meeting between the 49ers and the Green Bay Packers since 2013. But San Francisco will also be riding a 4-game winning streak against the Pack, including two postseason victories courtesy of some Kaepernick magic.
However, this will be the first time Aaron Rodgers and Co. will not go up against a stifling Vic Fangio-led 49ers defense in four years. Can current DC Eric Mangini rise to the challenge of slowing down one of the most dynamic passers in the league?
What’s more, does Kaepernick have anything else up his sleeve against Green Bay? After all, he has burned them with both his arm and his legs. But, considering recent struggles, it will be interesting to see what he’ll do next.
6) NaVorro Bowman might remember his last matchup with this team. Something tells me you will, too.
It was the 49ers’ final regular season game at Candlestick Park, against an Atlanta Falcons team just hoping to play the ultimate spoiler. In the redzone, Falcons QB Matt Ryan threw a screen pass to WR Harry Douglas in hopes to score the game-winning score. Then, this happened:
The Pick at the Stick. It will go down in history as one of the great plays in Candlestick Park history.
Now, the Falcons will return to the Bay Area – this time, to Levi’s Stadium – where a hopefully-healthy Bowman will be waiting for them, to keep them out of the end zone and defend the 49ers’ new home.