The big question: Can Jimmy Garoppolo stay healthy for a full season?
The Niners need Garoppolo, who has 10 career starts, to play all 16 games so they can truly know what they have in him. To contend for the playoffs in 2019, the Niners need him at full strength after a torn left ACL last season. If he can't stay on the field or struggles to move the offense consistently, San Francisco could have a tough decision to make and, potentially, find itself searching for answers again at the game's most important position. --Nick Wagoner
Offseason in a nutshell
The Niners made a handful of big moves, but their top priority was clear: supercharging the outside pass rush. They traded for and signed edge rusher Dee Ford to a five-year, $85.5 million deal and spent the No. 2 overall draft pick on a tag-team partner in Nick Bosa. The 49ers have lost 11 one-possession games over the past two seasons and believe Ford and Bosa can be the type of game-changers who can turn some of those losses into wins. --Wagoner
Most important game: 49ers at Buccaneers, Week 1. It might sound cliche to choose the opener but the Niners are in desperate need of a fast start given the way the schedule shakes out at the end and their consistent road woes (3-13 away from the Bay in the past two seasons). A win here could set an important tone and show things are different for this team.
Toughest stretch: Did we mention a difficult December? The Niners close with back-to-back road games against Baltimore and New Orleans, home contests against the Falcons and Rams and a finale in Seattle. If the Niners are in the chase then, they'll certainly have the opportunity to prove they belong over the final month.
Over or under 8.1 wins? Under. If everything breaks right, the Niners could hit the over, and something in the .500 range feels right, but there are simply too many questions -- namely on the interior offensive line, in the secondary, at receiver and at quarterback -- to confidently project a breakthrough season. This turns out to be the season the Niners should have had last year before the injury to Garoppolo. Though they improve as the season goes on, they finish 7-9. -- Wagoner
Schedule ranking: No. 6
The 49ers were dealt the shortest straw when it comes to scheduling who gets to play with extra rest. They play two games against teams coming off byes (Carolina and Green Bay) and two teams coming off Thursday games (Rams and New Orleans), plus they have their own Thursday game on the road (Week 9 at Arizona). That moves them from 11th in average DVOA of opponent to sixth in these adjusted rankings. -- Football Outsiders | See the full 1-32 ranking
Breakout fantasy star: WRDante Pettis
A 2018 second-round pick, Pettis quickly stepped into a big role in San Francisco. The Washington product put up 467 yards and five scores in 12 games, averaging an impressive 10.6 yards per target along the way. Pettis peaked prior to a season-ending injury in Week 16, posting the eighth-most fantasy points among wide receivers during Weeks 12-15. The 23-year-old is atop the 49ers' depth chart and positioned for a larger target share in his second season. -- Mike Clay | More fantasy coverage
The view from Vegas
Super Bowl odds: 40-1 (opened 50-1)
Over/under: 8 (O -145/U +125)
Playoff odds: Yes +190, No -230
Odds courtesy of Caesars Sportsbook as of Sept. 2.
Most interesting player prop
Over/under 24.5 touchdown passes for Jimmy Garoppolo
- Wagoner: Over. This presumes Garoppolo can play a full season or close to it, something he has never done in the NFL, but if he does and can shake off the rust he has showed in the preseason, the combination of improved weapons and coach Kyle Shanahan's offense should allow him to exceed this number. Barely.
Bold prediction: DeForest Buckner takes a star turn
Defensive tackle DeForest Buckner will reach 13 sacks, finish in the top 10 of Defensive Player of the Year voting and become one of the highest-paid defenders in the NFL in the offseason. Buckner has quietly established himself as one of the most dominant interior players in the league, posting 12 sacks in 2018 while receiving plenty of attention from opposing offensive lines. Still, Buckner hasn't garnered the credit he deserves, largely because the 49ers haven't won enough to for him to do so. But the Niners should be more competitive this season and, with edge rushers Ford and Bosa taking some of the additional blockers away, Buckner is well-positioned to become a household name outside of the Bay Area. -- Wagoner
Where the 49ers landed in NFLRank
- No. 42: TE George Kittle
- No. 90: DE Dee Ford
Speed reads before the opener
- Wagoner: Richard Sherman feeling like himself again entering Year 2 with 49ers
- Barnwell: What matters this preseason, from AB to Jimmy G
- Wagoner:Beers, bros and karaoke: Joe Staley, Mike McGlinchey are the heartbeat of the 49ers
- Wagoner: Does George Kittle ever have a bad day?
- Barnwell: Picking the five NFL teams most likely to improve in 2019
Why the Jets and 49ers are safe bets to improve this year
Bill Barnwell and Dan Graziano dive into the numbers to explain why the Jets and the 49ers are likely to take a step forward this season.