2018 San Francisco 49ers game-by-game predictions

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- The San Francisco 49ers' five-game winning streak to close the 2017 season generated plenty of buzz heading into 2018. That buzz wasn't limited to fans, either, as the Niners were given a whopping five prime-time games upon the release of their 2018 schedule.

The question now is whether the 49ers will be able to live up to the hype against a schedule that looks particularly daunting early but offers a lot of home cooking late. Here's one way-too-early guess at how the season will play out with the caveat that another prediction will be made just before the season:

Week 1: Sunday, Sept. 9, at Minnesota Vikings, 1 p.m. ET

The matchup of the Niners' franchise quarterback (Jimmy Garoppolo) and the man who likely would have been their franchise quarterback (Kirk Cousins) should get this season off to a rollicking start. San Francisco should give the Vikings all they want, but Minnesota has the better, more accomplished roster and U.S. Bank Stadium will be rocking. Record: 0-1

Week 2: Sunday, Sept. 16, vs. Detroit Lions, 4:05 p.m. ET

This is the only home game for the Niners in the season's first month and will feature Garoppolo and Detroit's Matthew Stafford, two of the league's highest-paid quarterbacks. A Week 1 loss will do nothing to dampen the spirits of the 49ers' faithful, and the 49ers grab their first win. Record: 1-1

Week 3: Sunday, Sept. 23, at Kansas City Chiefs, 1 p.m. ET

Kansas City offers a talented young quarterback in its own right and with many weapons at his disposal, Patrick Mahomes looks to have a bright future. It's fair to wonder if that will all coalesce this early, though, and the Chiefs' defense doesn't lack for questions. Record: 2-1

Week 4: Sunday, Sept. 30, at Los Angeles Chargers, 4:25 p.m. ET

The "other" Los Angeles team looks like one that could make a run at the AFC West, especially if it can finally start winning some close games. Don't be surprised if the 49ers' faithful outnumbers Chargers fans here, but Philip Rivers will lead a late drive to win a shootout. Record: 2-2

Week 5: Sunday, Oct. 7, vs. Arizona Cardinals, 4:25 p.m. ET

The Cardinals have owned the Niners in recent seasons, but there have been some major changes in the desert this offseason, including at head coach. Expect the 49ers to get back on the winning side here. Record: 3-2

Week 6: Monday, Oct. 15, at Green Bay Packers, 8:15 p.m. ET

Aaron Rodgers vs. Garoppolo on Monday Night Football at Lambeau Field? Yeah, this one should be fun. Assuming Rodgers is healthy and at his usual powers, this is a tough ask for a young 49ers defense. Record: 3-3

Week 7: Sunday, Oct. 21, vs. Los Angeles Rams, 8:20 p.m. ET

A year ago, these two teams played one of the most entertaining prime-time games of the 2017 season on a Thursday night. All you need to know about how far both franchises have come in a year is that this matchup is being featured on a Sunday night. The Rams escaped with a win last year in prime time, but the Niners were without Garoppolo. This atmosphere should be tough to beat as the once-fierce rivalry regains its mojo. Record: 4-3

Week 8: Sunday, Oct. 28, at Arizona Cardinals, 4:25 p.m. ET

The Cardinals shouldn't be completely counted out, as some are doing, after they went through so much change. But the Niners look the part of an ascending team while Arizona still has major questions at quarterback. The Niners complete the sweep. Record: 5-3

Week 9: Thursday, Nov. 1, vs. Oakland Raiders, 8:20 p.m. ET

For the final time, these two Bay Area rivals will meet and they'll do so in prime time. The traffic battle to get to Levi's Stadium figures to be hotly contested, but so, too, should the on-field matchup. The Raiders should be finding their groove under new coach Jon Gruden by this time, but former pupil Kyle Shanahan outduels him. Record: 6-3

Week 10: Monday, Nov. 12, vs. New York Giants, 8:15 p.m. ET

The Niners got their first win against the Giants after losing nine straight to open the 2017 season. That New York team won't be the same as the one the Niners get here, but a long trip across the country and a roster transition won't be enough to get past San Francisco. Record: 7-3

Week 12: Sunday, Nov. 25, at Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 1 p.m. ET

On paper, this is a game the 49ers should win. But one thing this team still must prove is that it can handle business when traveling to the Eastern time zone. That has been a major struggle in recent seasons and every team is susceptible to an unexpected loss. The Bucs give the Niners one of those here after a long layoff between games. Record: 7-4

Week 13: Sunday, Dec. 2, at Seattle Seahawks, 8:20 p.m. ET

Ah, yes, the Richard Sherman bowl. This rivalry kicks back into high gear as Sherman returns as a member of his former nemesis. The 49ers haven't beaten Seattle in their past nine attempts and though the Seahawks might be on the decline, they still have Russell Wilson, some excellent defensive pieces and a rousing home-field advantage. Record: 7-5

Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 9, vs. Denver Broncos, 4:05 p.m. ET

The Niners begin a manageable three-game home stretch, which should give them a realistic chance to make a playoff push. It begins here as John Elway's Broncos take on former protege John Lynch and the Niners. These 49ers should be able to get the job done. Record: 8-5

Week 15: Sunday, Dec. 16, vs. Seattle Seahawks, 4:05 p.m. ET

The second meeting in three weeks means these teams will have little they can hide from one another. But the chance to return home and take care of business gives the Niners a leg up this time and end Seattle's reign of dominance against them. Record: 9-5

Week 16: Sunday, Dec. 23, vs. Chicago Bears, 4:05 p.m. ET

Niners kicker Robbie Gould helped the Niners knock off the Bears late last season, but this Chicago team should be much better after some strong offseason additions and a well-designed coaching change. While Chicago should be improved, it will likely be out of the playoff race at this point, and the Niners will be making a final push as they wrap up a perfect home record. Record: 10-5

Week 17: Sunday, Dec. 30, at Los Angeles Rams, 4:25 p.m. ET

Could the NFC West be on the line in this game? It's possible. If it is, this should be the best atmosphere yet for a Rams game since their return to the City of Angels. The Niners are improved, but the Rams are positioned to make a deep postseason run. In this burgeoning rivalry, it only seems right the Rams and Niners split the season series. Record: 10-6