San Francisco 49ers 2021 schedule: Worst to first a possibility

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Sherman: I don't think Garoppolo gets enough credit (1:14)

Richard Sherman explains why Jimmy Garoppolo doesn't get enough credit for his play. (1:14)

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- The San Francisco 49ers' schedule was released along with the rest of the NFL slate on Wednesday.

The 2021 NFL season will kick off on Thursday, Sept. 9 with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers hosting the Dallas Cowboys (8:20 p.m. ET). ESPN’s Monday Night Football opener on Sept. 13 will feature the Las Vegas Raiders hosting the Baltimore Ravens (7:10 p.m. ET).

The NFL will change its schedule for the first time in 44 years, expanding to 17 regular-season games. The final regular-season games will be played January 9, 2022. The playoffs begin January 15, 2022 and continue through Super Bowl LVI on Feb. 13, 2022 at Los Angeles' SoFi Stadium.

Here's what in store for the 49ers:

Schedule

Sept. 12: at Detroit

Sept. 19: at Philadelphia

Sept. 26: vs. Green Bay (SNF)

Oct. 3: vs. Seattle

Oct. 10: at Arizona

Oct. 17: BYE

Oct. 24: vs. Indianapolis (SNF)

Oct. 31: at Chicago

Nov. 7: vs. Arizona

Nov. 15: vs. Los Angeles Rams (MNF)

Nov. 21: at Jacksonville

Nov. 28: vs. Minnesota

Dec. 5: at Seattle (SNF)

Dec. 12: at Cincinnati

Dec. 19: vs. Atlanta

Dec. 23: at Tennessee (TNF)

Jan. 2: vs. Houston

Jan. 9: at Los Angeles Rams

Strength of schedule: T-19th, .489

Biggest takeaway

If there's one positive that came from 2020 season, it could be that the Niners appear to have one of the more favorable schedules in football. The strength of schedule based off last year's records is middle of the pack but going off of Vegas' projected win totals for San Francisco's opponents, this isn't nearly as daunting as last year. The 49ers took advantage of a similar setup to make their run in 2019. If you're looking for a good omen, consider this: This is the third time in the Super Bowl era that the Niners have opened on the road against the Detroit Lions. The previous two times that happened came in 1981 and 1984. They went on to win the Super Bowl both times.

One storyline to watch

The one storyline that looms largest is what happens at quarterback. The 49ers insist that Jimmy Garoppolo will open camp as the starter with rookie Trey Lance having the opportunity to turn it into a competition if he picks things up quickly. Even if that doesn't happen, Lance doesn't seem to be as far off as many think and coach Kyle Shanahan could install some wrinkles for him to get acclimated before he steps into the starting role. One way or another, this will be the story that defines the Niners' season. If Lance takes over at some point, there are some intriguing matchups against quarterbacks like fellow first-round pick Justin Fields of the Chicago Bears to whom Lance will be forever linked.

What Vegas thinks

Oddsmakers peg the 49ers' projected win total at 10, tied with the Seahawks and barely behind the Rams' 10.5 for most in the NFC West. The Niners have the talent to go over that number but they also have plenty of questions, many of them centered on their ability to get and stay healthy. If they can do that, combined with what appears to be a favorable schedule, they should be able to reach 11 or more victories and contend for the division title again.

Bold Prediction

The 49ers will win the NFC West. San Francisco's record the past four years indicates 2019 was an aberration but that ignores important context around why those losing seasons occurred. The injury situation will improve, it would almost have to, and the 49ers will go from worst to first in the division.