49ers have won six consecutive season openers!
The San Francisco 49ers haven’t lost a season opener since 2010. A 6-31 bashing on the road, to the Seattle Seahawks. Since then, the team has won six consecutive season openers. All this despite playing under three different coaching staffs. However, the question remains, will the streak continue this Sunday?
The team faces many challenges. They will be going up against many mismatches on both sides of the ball. I’ve always been a firm believer in defense wins championships. For that reason, the Niners defense will be a key to watch, as they tackle the Carolina Panthers.
One matchup to keep an eye on will be the 49ers cornerbacks lining up in press-man against WR Kelvin Benjamin. At 6-5, 235, Benjamin’s physique alone poses many problems. For one, Benjamin is a former high school basketball star while attending Glades Central. He understands the benefits of boxing out defenders. In basketball it’s all about positioning. You can bet top dollar that Benjamin will be a go-to red zone target.
He will have no problems boxing out or high-pointing the football against 49ers CB Rashard Robinson or CB Dontae Johnson. You can play nearly perfect coverage on Benjamin, but more times than not, he will still come out on top. He’s that good. A big bodied receiver with great body control when the ball is in the air, Benjamin does not need much separation in order to make an impact.
Benjamin Predicted Stat Line: 6 catches for 90 yards and 1 touchdown
However, Benjamin isn’t the only receiver the 49ers need to account for. At 32, Panthers TE Greg Olsen continues to be QB Cam Newton’s security blanket. Last year, Olsen shredded the 49ers defense racking up five catches for 122 yards (24.4) and one touchdown.
That type of production can’t be ignored. Over the years, Newton and Olsen have built a strong rapport with each other. Look for the two to hook-up down the seams, posts, digs, and out routes on Sunday. One way to attack the 49ers Cover-3 scheme is by running down the seams.
What’s the seams? The seams is a location between two defenders causing confusion on their coverage assignment. For example, a tight end will run a post pattern down the seam. Initially the tight end will be covered by a linebacker but once he runs past him, it’s up to the safety behind the linebacker to either help out or disengage.
I have a strong feeling that both Olsen and Benjamin will benefit off the seams on Sunday, especially if the 49ers front four are unable to generate an organic pass-rush.
Olsen Predicted Stat Line: 7 catches for 84 yards and 1 touchdown
If all else fails, the Panthers can toy with their shiny new running back. Rookie first-round pick (No. 8) RB Christian McCaffrey will be used in both the run game and passing attack. His unique skill set provides an x-factor element. If the Panthers can gain early success off the seams and post routes, that will open up wheel routes for McCaffrey.
Should that fail, they can always use him in the slot to create a mismatch with a linebacker. The options are endless. Look for McCaffrey to get his fair share of touches despite playing behind veteran RB Jonathan Stewart.
McCaffrey Predicted Stat Line: Three catches for 37 yards/12 carries for 72 yards and 1 touchdown.
Analysis: 49ers HC Kyle Shanahan is an offensive genius. He understands schemes and faced the Panthers twice a year while with the Atlanta Falcons. That should bode well for the Niners. They win a close one 27-23.
5 Bold Predictions
- 49ers score at least 24 points
- WR Marquise Goodwin hauls in 50+ yard catch-and-run (possibly for TD)
- 49ers Defensive Front 7 shows up in first-half. Hold Panthers to less than 50 yards rushing
- 49ers CBs will be penalized for at least three pass-interference/holding calls
- LB Reuben Foster will have more tackles than MLB NaVorro Bowman
Analysis: Vegas line currently sets at 47.5. I think this game will definitely go over. However, I anticipate a defensive struggle in the first half, as the second-half is where points will be scored in a possible shootout. Take the over.
Analysis: The 49ers and Panthers may engage in a first-half defensive struggle. This is where the second-half comes into play. I predict adjustments will be made on both sidelines. In turn, it will reveal back-and-forth scoring drives with the 49ers ultimately winning a close one. The 49ers are five point underdogs, take the 49ers and the points at home.
Fantasy Football (67/185)
As you know, I select three players who I believe will score on Sunday. Here’s this week’s picks:
RB Carlos Hyde
WR Kelvin Benjamin
TE Greg Olsen