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San Francisco 49er fans across the globe have suffered an arduous nine months. The team finished the 2017 season winning five straight games, giving the Faithful an injection of pure hope into the main arterial.

The 49ers made a series of moves to improve on offense and defense, with the goal of extending last year's winning streak, and quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo's undefeated record, well into the 2018 season. Indeed, this year's team has the tools and talent to post a winning record.

The group that's been overlooked is the men who make up the defensive line. After the roster moves, it's clear the 49ers do not have a weak link among these warriors. I'm also happy to see rookie Mike linebacker Fred Warner get his first NFL start this Sunday. With the defensive line, Warner and second-year linebacker Reuben Foster, I would not be surprised to see the 49ers have a top-ten ranked run defense by the end of the season.

Unfortunately, the 49ers lost starting running back Jerick McKinnon to a season-ending knee injury. The new holy trinity of Alfred Morris, Matt Breida, and Kyle Juszczyk will undergo a trial by fire and must find a way to bring balance to the offense.

Currently, the 49ers are six-and-a-half point underdogs to the Vikings. Here are two ways the 49ers can win and two ways the 49ers could lose the opening game of the 2018 season.

The 49ers Win If…


They Score Fast and Exploit Weaknesses
I have always championed a team opening the first offense with a series of explosive plays. Think of the first play of the season like the initial question to a job interview. You want to start with your best stuff immediately to make an impression; entering with a shoe-gaze attitude doesn't move the needle.

This year's 49ers need to set the tone on Sunday; opening with a few outside zone runs, a quick out route, and slant-flat combination doesn't cut the mustard. It's time to get on the board twice in the first quarter and keep gas pedal floored for the remainder of the game.

I'd like to see head coach Kyle Shanahan open with a deep play-action pass, or a play with just a small amount of trickery to put the Vikings' defense on its heels for the afternoon.

Moreover, the 49ers need to exploit the weak links in the Vikings defense. If the Vikings send rookie defensive back Mike Hughes on the field for a series, the offense needs to call a route combination that forces the rookie to be indecisive.

The Secondary Intercepts Kirk Cousins Twice
I have no doubt the defensive line can sack Vikings' quarterback Kirk Cousins a few times on Sunday. But the 49ers' secondary feels primed for a big game, and it is emanating the vibrations of a volatile red giant star that is ready to explode into the ethos.

Why not channel that fury and put the fear of failure and piercing sliver of nagging doubt in Cousins' brain with at least two interceptions?

In fact, there is nothing I'd like more than to see veteran cornerback Richard Sherman intercept Cousins early in the game. Cousins is not the quarterback some think he is, and nothing would make me happier than to see the 49ers' secondary put the quarterback's soft play on the evening highlight reel.

The 49ers Lose If…


Special Teams Fails to Score A Touchdown
Fun fact: The last time the 49ers returned a punt or a kickoff for a touchdown was in 2011. Wide receiver Ted Ginn ran a kickoff 102-yards for a touchdown and followed it up a sixty seconds later with a 55-yard punt return for six points. (Pro Football Reference)

Since then, the 49ers have played 111 regular season games, Congress has reformed the nation's tax code and the Chicago Cubs won a World Series.

For all the talk of an upgraded roster – which is accurate – there is no talk of the 49ers improving the return game.

Punt and kickoff touchdowns are the plays that can stop momentum or put a game out of reach. The 49ers cannot skimp on touchdowns this season. With an unknown run game, the special teams unit must score points and shift the game back in favor of the 49ers.

The Interior Line Regresses
On Tuesday, September 4, the 49ers released an unofficial depth chart. Eight-year veteran Mike Person won the job to start at right guard.

I applaud Shanahan for allowing a fair and open competition for right guard. Person had a solid preseason, playing in three preseason games, allowed one hit, one hurry, and two pressures (Pro Football Focus). He certainly earned the right to run with the first squad.

Left guard Laken Tomlinson also had a positive preseason, allowing just two hurries and two pressures.

Person is an underrated guard. According to Pro Football Focus, he's had 1,337 career snaps and has not allowed a single sack. Over that time, he's only allowed two quarterback hits, 23 hurries, and 25 pressures.

Entering his fourth season, Tomlinson has twice as many career snaps as Person – 2,675 to be exact – but allowed 11 sacks, 14 hits, 64 hurries and 89 pressures. Last year, he allowed four sacks, 29 hurries and 39 pressures. (Pro Football Focus)

Like it or not, the guard position is the soft underbelly of the 49ers' offense. Tomlinson played well at the end of last season but was unreliable for ten straight games. Person has put up impressive career numbers but lacks the experience typically seen in an eight-year veteran. The 49ers' offense will only go as far as its interior offensive line can carry it. If neither guard can hold off the Vikings' attack, then do not expect the 49ers to leave Minnesota with a victory.

Final Prediction

I've gone back and forth with the final score, and believe the 49ers will cover the spread, but will fall by three points on Sunday. The injury to McKinnon leaves the 49ers without a solid running attack and a reliable back to include in the passing game.

Final score: Minnesota 27 San Francisco 24