Just as they did back in April, when the schedule was announced, the San Francisco 49ers still have the third-toughest strength of schedule in the NFL. The difference now, though, is the 49ers are without linebacker Aldon Smith (cut), defensive lineman Justin Smith (retired) and right tackle Anthony Davis (retired) -- all of whom were still on the roster in early spring -- and might also lose linebacker Ahmad Brooks, who is facing misdemeanor sexual battery charges.
So yeah, the 49ers have been weakened, which is why I went from a basically blind record prediction of 7-9 in April to one of 5-11 in September. I still feel they'll have a rough start and a strong finish, though, so long as the 49ers survive said brutal beginning.
Week 1: Monday, Sept. 14, Minnesota, 10:20 PM ET
Yes, I predicted the 49ers would ride a wave of emotion in Jim Tomsula’s NFL head coaching debut under the lights. But that was before the defense was so severely weakened and before Adrian Peterson rejoined the Vikings. Score: Vikings 23, 49ers 20. Record: 0-1.
Week 2: Sunday, Sept. 20, at Pittsburgh, 1 p.m. ET
Tomsula grew up eight miles from Heinz Field, but his homecoming is not a happy one, not with the Steelers, despite losing Troy Polamalu and Ike Davis to retirement, better equipped to handle such losses. Plus, the 49ers are traveling cross-country on a short week. Score: Steelers 27, 49ers 17. Record: 0-2.
Week 3: Sunday, Sept. 27, at Arizona, 4:05 p.m. ET
Another flip here. I initially had a fully healthy Cardinals team beating the 49ers with Carson Palmer under center. But something tells me Mike Iupati won’t be back from his knee injury yet and with Darnell Dockett no longer a 49er, there goes another subplot. Time for Carlos Hyde to step up. Score: 49ers 28, Cardinals 23. Record: 1-2.
Week 4: Sunday, Oct. 4, Green Bay, 4:25 p.m. ET
With the the way Colin Kaepernick has owned the Packers, think Aaron Rodgers has incentive, especially against a rebuilt 49ers defense? Yes, even with Jordy Nelson lost for the season with an ACL injury. Score: Packers 34, 49ers 26. Record: 1-3.
Week 5: Sunday, Oct. 11, at New York Giants, 8:30 p.m. ET
Chris Borland's name is only whispered around the 49ers facility these days and he won this game for them last season. I could see the 49ers throwing a scare into the Giants, and it is a winnable game, but not a gimme. Score: Giants 20, 49ers 17. Record: 1-4.
Week 6: Sunday, Oct. 18, Baltimore, 4:25 p.m. ET
As I wrote in April, John Harbaugh exacts revenge, real or imagined, on the 49ers in the house his little brother built. OK, helped build, and the fans are more than restless. Score: Ravens 34, 49ers 16. Record: 1-5.
Week 7: Thursday, Oct. 22, Seattle, 8:25 p.m. ET
Another short week following what is sure to be a physical game? At least the 49ers get No. 3 receiver Jerome Simpson back from his six-game suspension, right? Right?!? Score: Seahawks 27, 49ers 23. Record: 1-6.
Week 8: Sunday, Nov. 1, at St. Louis, 1 p.m. ET
Is a distracted Rams teams already en route to Los Angeles? If so, there will be no atmosphere in the dome and the 49ers can get the job done, just as they did in St. Louis last year on national television. Score: 49ers 27, Rams 16. Record: 2-6.
Week 9: Sunday, Nov. 8, Atlanta, 4:05 p.m. ET
The way I saw this in April, new Falcons coach Dan Quinn, previously Seattle’s defensive coordinator, knows the 49ers' ways, but the Falcons are not the Seahawks. Instead, with the 49ers' offseason defections, birds of a feather flock together ... or some such. Score: Falcons 17, 49ers 16. Record: 2-7.
Week 10: BYE
Week 11: Sunday, Nov. 22, at Seattle, 4:25 p.m. ET
The best time to catch a hungover Seahawks team, which has played the most games in the NFL over the past two years, would have been at the beginning of the season. Instead, Seattle is getting primed for another late-season run, at the visiting 49ers' expense. Score: Seahawks 28, 49ers 20. Record: 2-8.
Week 12: Sunday, Nov. 29, Arizona, 4:05 p.m. ET
The 49ers know who they are by now, as does the rest of the NFC West (this is their fourth divisional game in five outings) and though styles make fights in boxing, so, too, do they in the NFL. The 49ers simply match up well against the Cardinals. Score: 49ers 23, Cardinals 21. Record: 3-8.
Week 13: Sunday, Dec. 6, at Chicago, 1 p.m. ET
Here’s what I wrote in April, and nothing has changed: As good as the 49ers have been playing of late, their old defensive coordinator has the antidote. Vic Fangio quashes hopes of another Niners victory, and it gets ugly in Chicago. Score: Bears 35, 49ers 13. Record: 3-9.
Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 13, at Cleveland, 1 p.m. ET
Colin Kaepernick says he doesn’t get cold. And he puts on a clinic for the benefit of Johnny Manziel. Thing is, the 49ers' defense gives up one too many big plays and the 49ers, who initially hoped to stay in Youngstown, Ohio, between the Chicago and Cleveland games, are instead gassed by consecutive road games in bad weather. This is a change from April’s prediction, too. Score: Browns 24, 49ers 21. Record: 3-10.
Week 15: Sunday, Dec. 20, Cincinnati, 8:30 p.m. ET
The 49ers should just pack it in now, right? Thing is, pride is at stake and though Bengals have been a playoff team of late, they fold easily in the wild-card round. What I wrote in April still rings true here: The 49ers last lost a home game to the Bengals in 1974, and that won’t change this year. Score: 49ers 30, Bengals 21. Record: 4-10.
Week 16: Sunday, Dec. 27, at Detroit, 1 p.m. ET
Hey, maybe Jim Harbaugh has a break and drives over from Ann Arbor. What would Alex Boone say, then? Score: Lions 26, 49ers 17. Record: 4-11.
Week 17: Sunday, Jan. 6, St. Louis, 4:25 p.m. ET
Looking to go out on a high note, the 49ers simply match up well against the Rams, who could be looking forward to playing in Los Angeles next year to re-establish that Bay Area-L.A. rivalry. Maybe Anthony Davis comes back for the 49ers next season, too, and he and Chris Long can re-start their enmity. Score: 49ers 23, Rams 20. Record: 5-11.