49ers: Expectations heading into Week 1 against the Arizona Cardinals

The San Francisco 49ers are set to take on the Arizona Cardinals in Week 1.

The time is almost upon us and football fans — including 49ers fans — around the globe will finally be able to rejoice. The unusual NFL season began on Thursday, September 10th with the Houston Texans visiting the defending Super Bowl champs Kansas City Chiefs.

With the season fast approaching, we’re going to look at five realistic expectations for the San Francisco 49ers.

The Niners begin their quest for six when they face division rivals, the Arizona Cardinals. Although San Francisco swept the Cardinals during the 2019 regular season, Arizona proved to be worthy opponents heading into the new campaign.

In both losses to the Niners, there was only a total point differential of 13.  This is indicative of how tough the Cardinals were and with a slightly revamped offense, it seems like they may continue that upward trend.

The 49ers know they are now the hunted and will get every teams’ best shot. The only question is, will the Niners remain healthy enough to defend their crown?

Once again, the 49ers are plagued with injuries but will need to find a way to maintain a certain level of success until they’re able to return to full strength.

Speaking of full strength, San Francisco will be limping into their Week 1 matchup with a couple of key players nursing injuries as they ease themselves back into the mix.

There are currently six receivers on the Niners roster, but heading into their first game only three of them are completely healthy.

Deebo Samuel, Richie James, and rookie Brandon Aiyuk were all nicked up coming out of training camp. Aiyuk missed the team’s most recent practice and even if he’s able to go, how effective will he be?

Samuel has proven he can be a playmaker in this league, and he has the ability to impact a game at any given moment, but he was just placed on injured reserve and will at least three weeks.

One must have to play a few weeks of live reps in order to properly evaluate their performance along with their recovery. It’s one thing to deal with this injury from a skill position standpoint, but imagine dealing with an early-season injury as a rookie, which is exactly the case for Aiyuk.

The 49ers have big plans for Aiyuk, but he has to show improvements on a weekly basis to gain the trust of his coaching staff. That process begins with preparation and it was a good sign for him to be back out there during Thursday’s practice.

Although he appears to be somewhat close to 100 percent, I’m sure the training staff will do their due diligence to ease him into the flow. Until his live reps increase, it would behoove the rookie to keep his nose in the playbook and hard.

The 49ers are also dealing with a few injuries on defense as well.

The injuries do not begin and end with the offensive side of the ball, defensive coordinator Robert Saleh is tasked with mixing and matching his wounded unit.

The team will begin the season already missing standout reserve defensive linemen Ronald Blair and Jullian Taylor who will both begin the season on the PUP list.

As if Saleh and the defense needed any additional challenges, that’s exactly what they got when defensive end Nick Bosa and Dee Ford recently suffered their respective injuries. They’re not listed on Week 1’s final injury report, but I expect to see limited reps for the opener.

Ford is such an imposing force when healthy and on the field. If the Niners can get more than 11 games out of him this year, I strongly believe this unit can match or exceed their 2019 accomplishments.

Those are the obstacles that hinder Saleh’s defensive front, but the secondary has a few question marks as well.

Did any of the current defensive backs separate themselves as the clear-cut favorite to permanently start opposite Richard Sherman? Who will back up K’Waun Williams should something happen to him?

Prior to going down earlier in camp due to a hamstring injury, Jason Verrett was receiving high praise from various teammates including Richard Sherman. His determination to bounceback from a devasting injury in order to return to his Pro Bowl form has really fueled his work ethic.

In the meantime, San Francisco seems to be comfortable rolling with third-year cornerback Emmanuel Moseley to begin the season. If that’s the case I’m curious to see what happens with Ahkello Witherspoon.

Will they move him to the slot position in relief for Williams from time to time? Or will they do an outside cornerback by committee type of system? Either way, I do not anticipate a huge drop-off between players so production should remain on par.

The NFC West is one of the most stacked divisions in football and Sunday’s showdown between these two rivals will set the tone for the season.

Next: 49ers: Team preview and prediction for 2020 season

If the 49ers want to get back to the big dance, it’s going to take a great deal of mental fortitude to overcome the dreaded Super Bowl hangover.

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