The NFL has released the San Francisco 49ers schedule for 2019, and for the first time since a disastrous 1997 game, the 49ers willopen the season against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. In that game, the first under new head coach Steve Mariucci, Jerry Rice went down with an ACL injury and San Francisco lost 13-6. They would finish that season 13-3, and while there’s little hope that this year’s version of the club can attain those heights, it’s not unreasonable to think this group will bounce back from a disappoinging 2018.
The 49ers’ home schedule outside of the division is going to be full of tests. It will feature no less than three former league MVPs in Cam Newton, Matt Ryan and Aaron Rodgers, plus Super Bowl champ Ben Roethlisberger and up-and-coming star Baker Mayfield leading a revived Cleveland Browns, armed with Odell Beckham Jr. Oh, and they’ll face six playoff teams.
There’re some light spots though, including a rebuilding Cardinals team, a rebuilding Bucs team and lower-half teams in Cincinnati and Washington.
The 49ers’ strength of schedule is No. 11, but that feels a little low. They start with back-to-back road games (one of four teams to start with two on the road), and face the re-made Cleveland Browns in an earkly Monday Night Football matchup. They also end the season against the reigning NFC champion Rams and rival Seahawks. This will be a much more challenging schedule than the one they were faced with last season, when, with a healthy roster, they could have had a breakout Year 2 under Kyle Shanahan. They’ll have to earn their stripes in 2019, and it won’t be easy. Las Vegas has their over-under set at eight wins, still a four-game improvement from last season, but also kind of where we thought they’d land, were they completely healthy, in 2018.
vs. Cowboys Aug. 8-12 TBD
@ Broncos Aug. 19, 8 p.m. ET (ESPN)
@ Chiefs Aug.22-25 TBD
vs.Chargers Aug. 29 or 30, TBD
Regular Season (all times Pacific)
Week 1 (Sunday, Sept. 8): @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 1:25 p.m.
Week 2 (Sunday, Sept. 15): @ Cincinnati Bengals, 10 a.m.
Week 3 (Sunday, Sept. 22): vs. Pittsburgh Steelers, 1:25 p.m. (home opener)
Week 4 — BYE WEEK
— This marks the first time since 2002 that the 49ers have had their bye in Week 4. Since the NFL re-introduced the bye in 1990, this marks only the fifth time the 49ers have had it in Week 4 or earlier (1990, 1996, 1998, 2002).
Week 5 (Monday, Oct. 7): vs. Cleveland Browns, 5:15 p.m. (Monday Night Football)
Week 6 (Sunday, Oct. 13): @ Los Angeles Rams, 1:05 p.m.
Week 7 (Sunday, Oct. 20): @ Washington, 10 a.m.
Week 8 (Sunday, Oct. 27): vs. Carolina Panthers, 1:05 p.m.
Week 9 (Thursday, Oct. 31): @ Arizona Cardinals, 5:20 p.m. (Thursday Night Football)
Week 10 (Monday, Nov. 11): vs. Seattle Seahawks, 5:15 p.m. (Monday Night Football)
Week 11 (Sunday, Nov. 17): vs. Arizona Cardinals, 1:05 p.m.
Week 12 (Sunday, Nov. 24): vs. Green Bay Packers, 1:25 p.m.
Week 13 (Sunday, Dec. 1): @ Baltimore Ravens, 10 a.m.
Week 14 (Sunday, Dec, 8): @ New Orleans Saints, 10 a.m.
Week 15 (Sunday, Dec. 15): vs. Atlanta Falcons, 1:25 p.m.
Week 16 (Dec. 21 OR Dec. 22): vs. Los Angeles Rams, TBD (announced no later than following Week 8 games)
Week 17 (Sun, Dec. 29): @ Seattle Seahawks
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
2019 dates: Sept. 8 @ Tampa
2018 record: (5-11, fourth, NFC South)
Briefly: Former Arizona coach Bruce Arians is in his first season as Tampa Bay’s coach, so he’s more than familiar with the 49ers from divisional play. Last year’s road game against the Buccaneers marked the season’s nadir for the 49ers. The night before their 27-9 loss on Nov. 25, troubled linebacker Reuben Foster was arrested at the team hotel after an alleged incident with his on-again-off-again girlfriend.The incident spelled the end of Foster’s tenure with the team, as he spent a night in jail and was released — both from jail and the 49ers — in the morning. He was replaced by offseason acquisition Kwon Alexander, who spent his first four seasons in Tampa. He missed the final 10 games of the year with a torn ACL, and it’s unknown whether or not he will be available to play in the opener against his former team.
2018 record: 10-6 (second, NFC West)
Briefly: The Seahawks re-upped franchise quarterback Russell Wilson to a four-year, $140 million contract, including a $65 million signing bonus to make him the highest-paid player in the NFL. The five-time Pro Bowler is coming off arguably the best season of his career, in which he threw 35 touchdown passes and posted a 110.9 passer rating. He returns to a team that’s still got top wide outs Doug Baldwin and Tyler Lockett, but still need a big receiver.
The Seahawks are still looking at potential extensions for All-Pro middle linebacker Bobby Wagner and Frank Clark, the team’s top pass rusher. Of course, Earl Thomas is already out, and wasn’t too shy about openly showing his disdain for Pete Carroll on the way out the door. Former 49ers pass rusher Cassius Marsh recently signed up, as did Nate Orchard, improving a defense that ranked 16th overall last season.
The 49ers are 7-15 overall on the road at Seattle, and have not won in the Northwest since 2011. San Francisco finishes the regular season in Seattle for the first time since the 1997 season. San Francisco faces Seattle on Monday Night Football for the fourth time in the history between the two franchises, and the two teams play in primetime for the first time since 2015.
Los Angeles Rams
2018 record: 13-3 (first, NFC West; NFC Champions)
Briefly: Running back Todd Gurley had an awkward end to the season, with a knee injury limiting him in the playoffs and holding him out of any meaningful action in the Super Bowl. He recently told ESPN that his knee is feeling “pretty good,” and the Rams bring back all of their offensive playmakers. They did lose defensive back Aqib Talib, as well as veteran center John Sullivan and veteran offensive lineman Rodger Saffold to free agency. The Rams beat the 49ers 39-10 on Oct. 21, and again 48-32 on the final day of the season, in a game that saw George Kittle break the all-time single-season receiving yards record for tight ends.
2018 record: 3-13 (last, NFC West)
Briefly: The Cardinals are a wild card in 2019, likely moving on from former UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen and setting their sights on Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray as the top pick in the NFL Draft. Arizona beat San Francisco 28-18 in the teams’ first meeting, as they picked on a depleted secondary and forced five turnovers. The second meeting was a bit closer, with Arizona picking up an 18-15 win on Oct. 28 to deal San Francisco its sixth straight loss. The Cardinals were last in the NFL in total offense in 2018, but 20th in total defense. Since divisional realignment in 2002, this marks the first time the 49ers and Cardinals will meet two times in three weeks.
2018 record: 7-9 (second, NFC South)
Briefly: Atlanta has quietly undergone a rebuild up front on the offensive line, signing free-agent offensive guards James Carpenter( formerly of the New York Jets) and Jamon Brown (formerly of the New York Giants). On April 3rd, the Falcons signed guard Adam Gettis, another former Giant. This week, they signed John Wetzel, a towering 6-foot-7, 328-pound versatile lineman who’s played every spot but center for the Cardinals, Raiders, Cowboys and Colts. More protection for Matt Ryan means a more dangerous Falcons team. San Francisco owns the overall series, 47-31-1, and is 28-11 at home.
Green Bay Packers
2018 record: 6-9-1 (third, NFC North)
Briefly: The latest reports indicate that the Packers may be looking for an understudy for Aaron Rodgers, and that understudy may be Josh Rosen. Draft-day intrigue will abound, as the Cardinals look to add offensive playmakers to an aging Larry Fitzgerald. As for Green Bay, last season was a disappointing one for Rodgers and Co., and they barely beat San Francisco in an Oct. 15 matchup on the Frozen Tundra, 33-30. This year, the Packers have a new head coach in Matt LaFleur, brought in when the tense relationship between Rodgers and Mike McCarthy finally cracked. LaFleur is just 39, only four years older than Rodgers. Time will tell if the former Cal quarterback will respect him, and his offensive decisions. The 49ers have won four out of the last six overall games against the Packers.
2018 record: 7-9 (third, NFC South)
Briefly: By many measures, 2018 was arguably Cam Newton’s best season since 2015. He set a career best for completion percentage (67.9), he had a 5.1% touchdown percentage (second to his 2015 career high of 7.1), 7.2 yards per attempt (second to his 7.8 in 2015), had his fewest picks (13) since 2015 (10) and took the fewest sacks in his career (29) while posting a 94.2 QB rating, only the second time in his career he’s topped 90 (the other? 99.4 in 2015). A somewhat smaller-profile player, defensive tackle Kyle Love, recently signed a one-year deal. That may not sound like much, but he’s a key rotational guy known for mentoring young defensive linemen, and in 2018, forced three fumbles and recovered two, had a sack and a half and had 19 tackles to lead that defensive front. With him, the Panthers can mix three- and four-man fronts, since he can play the nose in either front.
2018 record: 7-8 (third, AFC North)
Briefly: Reborn with a new coach, a new quarterback and a new sense of optimism, the Browns made the quick turnaround from doormat to low-key contender. What can they do with a full season of Baker Mayfield, plus Odell Beckham Jr., under new head coach Freddie Kitchens?
San Francisco is 7-12 overall against the Browns, and 5-5 at home. The 49ers are hosting the Browns for the first time since defeating Cleveland 20-10 in 2011, and it will be the first time San Francisco hosts Cleveland on MNF in the series history. The two teams faced each other on a Monday in Cleveland on September 13, 1993, a 23-13 49ers loss.
2018 record: 9-6-1 (second, AFC North)
Briefly: No more Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell, but Pittsburgh still has Roethlisberger, and the emergent James Conner, who stepped in for the holding-out Bell last season and ran 247 times for 1,117 yards and 12 touchdowns, while catching 55 balls for 497 yards and a touchdown. Even Bell recently predicted Conner would score 17 touchdowns this season. High praise, and a stout test for a 49ers defensive front that was somewhat decent last year, ranking 14th in the NFL in rushing defense.
New Orleans Saints
2018 record: 13-3 (first, NFC South)
Briefly: One pass interference call away from reaching the Super Bowl, New Orleans lost starting center Max Unfer to retirement, as well as tight end Benjamin Watson. They also lost running back Mark Ingram and defensive end Alex Okafor to free agency. Rookie Marcus Davenport should step up to replace Okafor, and New Orleans added former Raider Jared Cook to the tight end mix.The Saints also added defensive back and return specialist Marcus Sherels, who has five career punt return touchdowns and averaged 10.4 yards per punt return with the Vikings. Their biggest offseason add? Latavius Murray, who will replace Ingram with his 3,698 career rushing yards. The 49ers travel to New Orleans for the first time since their 27-24 overtime victory over the Saints in 2014. San Francisco has won two of the past three meetings against the Saints at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
2018 record: 10-6 (first, AFC North)
Briefly: The beneficiaries of Earl Thomas’ rocky end in Seattle, the story in Baltimore is the evolution of Lamar Jackson. Jackson emerged last season as Joe Flacco’s replacement (a notable upgrade), and is at the head of a sea change for Baltimore. Gone are veteran defenders Terrell Suggs, C.J. Mosley, Flacco and Eric Waddle. Thomas — a six-time Pro Bowler — and Mark Ingram are the main new faces in town. Inside linebacker Patrick Onwuasor could wind up with the green dot on defense, taking over for Mosley and Weddle after he tallied 59 combined stops, 5.5 sacks and a pick last season. The 49ers look for their first win in the city of Baltimore since defeating the Baltimore Colts, 24-21, in 1969.
2018 record: 6-10 (fourth, AFC North)
Briefly: Andy Dalton and running back Joe Mixon led Cincinnati to four wins in their first five games in 2018, but the Bengals lost seven of eight in the season’s second half, most of them without Dalton, who went on the IR with a thumb injury after Week 11. If those two can stay healthy, Cincinnati may be a .500 team, with a chance to creep above that.
Head coach of 16 years Marvin Lewis got the boot, in favor of Zac Taylor, the former wide receivers and quarterbacks coach for the Rams. The Bengals re-signed tight ends Tyler Eifert and C.J. Uzomah, along with linebacker Preston Brown and tackles Trey Hopkins and Bobby Hart. They brought in former Bills guard John Miller and former Giants corner B.W. Webb.
2018 record: (7-9, NFC East)
Briefly: Case Keenum is in a new uniform for the third straight year, after being traded from the Broncos to the Redskins in March to replace injures former 49ers quarterback Alex Smith. Washington’s new quarterback will helm a team that looked promising at the start of 2018, but fell apart by the end of the season, and will have to do without receiver Jamison Crowder, who departed leaving an already thin unit worse off. They added former 49ers linebacker Reuben Foster, but lost safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and outside linebacker Preston Smith to free agency. This is a mediocre team that got worse.