2017 San Francisco 49ers game-by-game predictions

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- The San Francisco 49ers are set to once again begin a new era under coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch. That new regime hasn't even had a chance to have its first draft, but there's no doubt that they will have an uphill climb to return a team that was 2-14 a year ago to respectability.

On the bright side, the schedule doesn't appear as difficult as it has in recent years, thanks in part to the NFC West having a bit of a drop-off and a final month that offers winnable games. Of course, what looks tough now might not be when the games begin and vice versa.

Here's a way-too-early guess at how things might shake out in 2017:

Week 1: Sunday, Sept. 10 vs. Carolina Panthers, 4:25 p.m. ET

The big question here will be whether Carolina quarterback Cam Newton is back at full strength following shoulder surgery. The bet here is he will, and the same Carolina team that throttled the 49ers at home last year will be able to get it done here -- though in a game that will probably be a bit closer. It will also end the Niners' run of six straight season-opening wins. Record: 0-1

Week 2: Sunday, Sept. 17 at Seattle Seahawks, 4:25 p.m. ET

The Seahawks have simply had the 49ers' number. Although Shanahan should be able to offer a few more answers to Seattle's defense, it won't be enough to get the 49ers a win at CenturyLink Field, where they've lost six in a row. Record: 0-2

Week 3: Thursday, Sept. 21 vs. Los Angeles Rams, 8:25 p.m. ET

The Rams were the only team the Niners could beat last year and aside from a change in coaches, it's hard to see how they've improved much. This one won't be the blowout victory the 49ers enjoyed last year, but it will be Shanahan's first win in a battle of bright offensive minds. Record: 1-2

Week 4: Sunday, Oct. 1 at Arizona Cardinals, 4:05 p.m. ET

The Cardinals looked far more vulnerable in 2016, but the 49ers still must prove that their run defense will be better. David Johnson carries the load as San Francisco embarks on a brutal run of road games. Record: 1-3

Week 5: Sunday, Oct. 8 at Indianapolis Colts, 1 p.m. ET

The Colts have had issues of their own in recent years, but expect a fired-up Frank Gore to be ready to go against his old teammates and the Colts to get a win. Record: 1-4

Week 6: Sunday, Oct. 15 at Washington Redskins, 1 p.m. ET

Pierre Garcon will continue his homecoming tour in Washington, but this game will undoubtedly be all about Shanahan and Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins. This is a long trip across the country with an early start, giving Cousins and Co. an advantage as he makes his case for a huge contract from the Niners next offseason. Record: 1-5

Week 7: Sunday, Oct. 22 vs. Dallas Cowboys, 4:05 p.m. ET

Cowboys fans took over Levi's Stadium when these teams met last year. Dallas running back Ezekiel Elliott took over the game and led the Cowboys to a win after a close first half. Elliott could go big again here. Record: 1-6

Week 8: Sunday, Oct. 29 at Philadelphia Eagles, 1 p.m. ET

This should be a game the 49ers can keep close, but they haven't shown the ability to travel cross-country and play well in recent years. They allow the Eagles to steal this one late. Record: 1-7

Week 9: Sunday, Nov. 5 vs. Arizona Cardinals, 4:05 p.m. ET

It wouldn't be a surprise if someone other than Carson Palmer is starting for Arizona by this point in the season. The Niners finally break through and beat someone other than the Rams in the division. Record: 2-7

Week 10: Sunday, Nov. 12 vs. New York Giants, 4:25 p.m. ET

Just before the bye, the 49ers face one of the best defenses in the league. It's a tough trip for the Giants, but they should be able to win what could be a low-scoring affair. Record: 2-8

Week 11: Bye.

Week 12: Sunday, Nov. 26 vs. Seattle Seahawks, 4:05 p.m. ET

The Niners should be rested coming out of the bye, but a meeting against the team that has owned them recently doesn't allow them to take advantage.Record: 2-9

Week 13: Sunday, Dec. 3 at Chicago Bears, 1 p.m. ET

The 49ers laid an egg in the snow in Chicago almost a year to this day. This one could again be a battle for draft positioning. This time, quarterback Brian Hoyer leads the Niners to a win over his former team. Record: 3-9

Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 10 at Houston Texans, 1 p.m. ET

Houston's offense comes with a lot of questions, particularly at quarterback. But there's a tough defense in place that will make things difficult. There's usually a game that comes with a surprising result somewhere on the schedule. Let's go with this one as Shanahan knocks off one of his former teams. Record: 4-9

Week 15: Sunday, Dec. 17 vs. Tennessee Titans, 4:25 p.m. ET

Tennessee is one of the most intriguing young teams in the league and looks to be on the rise. The Titans could still be in the playoff mix at this point and will stay in it with a win here. Record: 4-10

Week 16: Sunday, Dec. 24 vs. Jacksonville Jaguars, 4:05 p.m. ET

This Christmas Eve matchup is sure to excite just about nobody will probably have serious draft implications. This is a tough trip for Jacksonville, and the 49ers give their fans a win for the holidays. Record: 5-10

Week 17: Sunday, Dec. 31 at Los Angeles Rams, 4:25 p.m. ET

This game is likely to be for the right to avoid the NFC West basement, but the Niners seem to have something over the Rams recently despite their struggles. Flip a coin for this win, but the 49ers could have a little momentum ending this season and offer a finish that's promising for the future. Record: 6-10