Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

The 5 most important games for the 49ers in 2021

Rohan Chakravarthi
Sep 5, 2021 at 2:45 PM--

After going 6-10 last year and finishing fourth in their division, the 49ers received the 12th-most favorable schedule in terms of strength of schedule, with their opponents' 2020 win percentage at 48.9%.

Still, that doesn't exclude them from several tough and important matchups, especially being in the NFC West, where all four teams are of playoff-caliber.

With that said, let's break down the five MOST crucial games on the schedule, with one honorable mention.

HM: Week 1 at Detroit

The first game of the season. It's not only the most exhilarating feeling for fans, but for organizations as well, because football, and that chase to a Lombardi Trophy, is finally back.

So, why do I have a matchup against a presumably bottom-five team as the sixth most crucial game for the 49ers?

Well, this game is much less about the opponent and much more about the team itself.

The 49ers, who were the most injury-ravaged team last year, return both of their defensive ends: Nick Bosa and Dee Ford. Bosa was the elite force in 2019 who led this front seven to prominence and figures to have a large role as a pass-rusher in defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans' system.

Dee Ford has been my X-Factor for this team, because he would be the perfect complement as a pass-rusher alongside Nick Bosa in the later weeks of the season, but is likely on a limited rep count for Week 1, so it will be important to see how he responds to live-game action.

But, more importantly, it will also be Jimmy Garoppolo's first game back in action where he figures to play for a substantial amount of time.

It's important that the team gets on the right foot to start the season and have all impact players respond successfully, so that the team can be the best version of itself as the season prolongs.

But, let's get into the top five most crucial games.

5. Week 13 at Seattle

As usual, the most important games in a year are the division games. They just have to be, especially in this division, where everyone is competing against each other for legitimate playoff spots.

So, San Francisco's Week 13 matchup in Seattle comes in at the fifth-most crucial game.

The 49ers host Seattle in Week 4 in the middle of a brutal, three-game stretch, where they face Green Bay at home, Seattle at home, and Arizona on the road. More on that in a minute.

I think the second matchup, however, is the more important one, because San Francisco will have to travel to Seattle after playing Minnesota at home the week before.

The team has to win these crucial away games against division rivals to maintain at least an even record in the head-to-head matchups, which will come in handy when the playoffs near.

While the schedule around Week 13 is favorable (SF plays Jacksonville in Week 11, Minnesota in Week 12, Cincinnati in Week 14, and Atlanta in Week 15), the 49ers have to remain sharp in this key matchup to have an edge in the division.

Still, because of the favorable schedule around the game, this one ranks only as the fifth-most crucial game for the 49ers.

4. Week 3 vs Green Bay

After playing below-average teams in Detroit and Philadelphia, albeit on the road, the 49ers face their first extreme test of the season at home against Green Bay in a primetime Sunday night game.

The Packers return Aaron Rodgers and seemingly stayed similar in talent, with Aaron Jones returning and the mainstays on defense still there.

With pressure on Jimmy Garoppolo to perform in 2021, this will be the first real test that he faces, although the 2019 49ers did beat this Packers team twice during their Super Bowl run.

Regardless, a win in Week 3 would give the team serious momentum heading into its first difficult stretch of the season: facing Seattle at home in Week 4 and going on the road to face Arizona in Week 5.

In addition, a surprising loss in either Week 1 or Week 2 would increase the pressure to get through this game and the rough stretch, so that the team remains above .500 heading into its bye week.

Since the division likely comes down to within a game, winning both the relatively easy matchups and the difficult ones, like this Green Bay one, are crucial for the team.

However, since it is in the first half of the season, and since it's not a division rival, the game ranks as the fourth-most crucial 49er game in 2021.

(Can you guess the rest now?)

3. Week 5 at Arizona

I alluded to it in the previous matchup, but Week 5 at Arizona is undoubtedly one of the most important matchups of the season for the 49ers.

As I said before, the team has a difficult three-game stretch in Weeks 3-5, with the Arizona game capping it off.

Now, this matchup is more important than the last one because 1) it's a division game, but 2) it comes after the outcomes of the previous matchups, meaning there could be added pressure or momentum heading into Week 5.

Arizona is a rising team, like the 49ers, that sports young star quarterback Kyler Murray to go with an arsenal of weapons and an improving, relatively deep defense.

Winning this game would give the team both reassurance and momentum heading into the bye week and would save any imminent changes from happening, solving any potential chemistry issues.

And, most importantly, this game is against a division rival, meaning that the head-to-head record is certainly in play.

In Week 9, Arizona returns to San Francisco for the trams' second matchup, but that game is at home with a relatively easier matchup in Week 8 in the Chicago Bears.

But, as I said before, this game comes in the earlier half of the schedule, so it is not as important as the first and second-most crucial games on the 49ers schedule.

2. Week 16 at Tennessee

Wait. This isn't a division game. It isn't even a conference game. But, San Francisco's Week 16 matchup is an extremely crucial game for the 49ers this year.

While it doesn't fit under many of the criteria I've listed above as other reasons (not a division game, easier schedule in the week before/after the game), there are other conditions that play a role in this matchup.

The 49ers matchup comes on December 23rd at Tennesee, which is a Thursday night, meaning the team has a short week to prepare after facing Atlanta at home on Sunday in Week 15.

In addition, they have to travel, going from Santa Clara to Tennessee, and adjust for the colder weather that Tennessee has in the winter.

On top of that, the 49ers, with their early Week 6 bye week, will likely need to rest bodies to avoid the injury bug that haunted them last year, which might hurt them on game day.

With players like Nick Bosa returning from a major injury, rest will certainly be a factor with the longer season.

Tennessee figures to be in the playoff race as well, so a major win here could boost the 49ers' morale as they near the postseason, especially with the powerhouse of an offense that the Titans have.

In addition, the win would improve the team's playoff chances and even seeding chances, which is the main goal at that part of the season.

Since it is not a division game, Week 16 does not rank as the most crucial game, but it comes as a very close second.

1. Week 18 at Los Angeles

You probably guessed this one with the hints I dropped about the division, but the most crucial game for the 49ers this season is their final one: a Week 18 showdown with the Los Angeles Rams at SoFi Stadium.

Before I continue, just envision the exact scenario that happened in 2019: the 49ers facing the Seahawks in Week 17 in Seattle with the division on the line. The winner got the #1 overall seed in the NFC and the loser had to settle for a wildcard spot. On the last play, linebacker Dre Greenlaw met Seattle tight end Jacob Hollister and stopped him short of the goal line to win the game 26-21 for the 49ers.

A similar scene could occur in 2021, as the Rams, who now sport Matthew Stafford at quarterback, vie to get back to the Super Bowl after making it in 2018.

Division implications would certainly be on the line and winning the NFC West would give home-field advantage, at least for the first round, which would certainly play to the 49ers' favor with the loud Levi's crowd.

The 49ers first meet the Rams in Week 10 at home after facing the Cardinals at home as well in Week 9. Knowing the outcome of that game, regardless of a win or loss, there is more pressure on the team to either sustain the head-to-head record or even it up for a better chance at the playoffs.

Lastly, in Week 18, the 49ers would be long past their bye week and in a spot where the wear-and-tear on player bodies would be most evident, increasing the stakes of the division rival showdown.

If the season goes well for San Francisco, look to these five games as ones you circle on your calendar especially, because of the magnitude they all possess.
The opinions within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.
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