The San Francisco 49ers enter 2013 as one of the favorites to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl. When expectations are that high, all games take on an increased level of importance. Below I highlight five matchups that will be must watches for fans.
Week 1 vs. Green Bay Packers
Can the first game of the season really be considered a must win game for the 49ers? With a trip to Seattle looming in week 2, it’s important for the Niners to get a win under their belts. San Francisco beat Green Bay twice in 2012 including a 45-31 win in the division round of the playoffs that saw Colin Kaepernick explode for 444 total yards. The Packers will be up for this game, not wanting to lose three in a row to the Niners. If the 49ers do lose they run the risk of starting 0-2. If that were to happen, the season would be far from over as the team has the talent and coaching to rebound but starting out in that kind of a hole is far from ideal.
Week 2/Week 14 @/vs. Seattle Seahawks
The 49ers and Seahawks have quickly become one of the hottest rivalries in the league as the two NFC West powerhouses may be the class of the conference. The teams both rely on running the football and stout defenses. The emergence of Kaepernick and Russell Wilson have given an added element to both offenses as they now appear to have franchise quarterbacks behind center.
With the teams so evenly matched, the two games between them could go a long way in deciding who wins the division and possibly gain home field advantage in the playoffs. Seattle finished 2012 on fire going 7-1 down the stretch and closing the gap with the 49ers. With Michael Crabtree out most of the season with an Achilles tear, the scales could be tipped in favor of Seattle. The 49ers offense may still be finding it’s way in week two as they try and move on from Crabtree.
Ideally the teams would like to hold serve and win the homes games against each other. The 49ers could make a statement early on by going into Seattle and stealing a win at Qwest Field (where Seattle was 8-0 last season). If they can’t, week 14 could be a must win at home and may be the deciding factor between a wild card and the division.
Week 5 vs. Houston Texans
This out of conference matchup is just plain entertaining. The Texans come into San Francisco with stars like Arian Foster, Andre Johnson, and J.J. Watt. Houston is looking to finally get over the hump and make it to the AFC championship game after losing two straight years in the divisional round. Beating the defending NFC champions in San Francisco can go a long way in building confidence for a deep run.
San Francisco will be coming off a Thursday night game against the St. Louis Rams so they will have ample time to prepare for the Texans. Depending on how things go early, a win here may be big for the 49ers.
Week 12 @ Washington Redskins
The Monday night matchup against the Redskins will be all about the quarterbacks. Kaepernick and Robert Griffin III are two of the most exciting players in the NFL and the hype for this game will be centered around them. Both teams expect to be in the playoff hunt and a win for the Niners could go a long way in the battle for home field advantage. Like Seattle, Washington finished 2012 strong. They won their last seven regular season games and jumped out to an early lead on the Seahawks in the wild card round before Griffin injured his knee and the offense sputtered as he tried to play through the pain.
Week 16 vs. Atlanta Falcons
This rematch of the NFC Championship game may or may not still have playoff implications this late in the season, but it’s a must watch regardless. The game will mark the last time the 49ers play at Candlestick Park during the regular season before they move into their new stadium in Santa Clara. The significance of closing out the stadium can’t be minimized as it’s been home to some of the greatest players in the history of the NFL. Memories of Joe Montana, Jerry Rice, Ronnie Lott and Steve Young will forever be remembered. Candlestick was the birthplace of a dynasty built by then owner Eddie DeBartolo and head coach Bill Walsh and should always hold a place in football lore.
Photo Credit: Streeter Lecka/Getty Images
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