The San Francisco 49ers kick off Week 1 of their 2019 campaign on the road against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and these five X-factors will play a huge role in whether or not the Niners come away 1-0.


It's weird to think the San Francisco 49ers are playing something like a must-win game right out of the gate, this time in Week 1 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

While the game isn't a must-win one, of course, it feels like it. The Niners' 2019 schedule isn't particularly easy, especially in the latter half, and they have won just five games on the road over the last four years.

Starting off strong and bucking the road-woes trend will be on head coach Kyle Shanahan's Week 1 to-do list, and there are quite a number of elements and X-factors playing into the eventual results.

Here are five of them to watch during the game.

Containing Mike Evans


When Tampa Bay embarrassed the 49ers 27-9 in Week 12 last year, Buccaneers wide receiver Mike Evans managed 116 yards on six receptions, beating both Niners cornerbacks Richard Sherman and Ahkello Witherspoon in the process.

Sherman and Witherspoon likely start again to kick off the year, which means a rematch in this department. And the 49ers hope a revamped pass rush takes away some of the pressure on what is still a questionable secondary. Regardless, Evans is a player who can take over a game, as his 1,524 receiving yards in 2018 suggest.

Evans was dealing with a flu earlier this week, but the latest reports suggest he'll play.

Handling the Buccaneers Blitz


Tampa Bay owned the second-worst scoring defense in 2018, allowing a whopping 464 points. So it's no surprise the Bucs brought in some added defensive talent during the offseason, namely defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh and EDGE Shaquil Barrett. On top of that, former New York Jets head coach Todd Bowles returns to take over defensive coordinator duties under head coach Bruce Arians.

Bowles favors blitz packages and overloads, meaning the Buccaneers are going to be generating a lot of pressure during the game.

Recognizing the blitzes will fall heavily on center Weston Richburg, who is still questionable for the contest after just being taken off the PUP list during the preseason. If he's unable to go, Ben Garland will continue to serve in Richburg's stead.

For those wondering if quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo can handle the heat early, Week 1 provides a good challenge.

Heat and Humidity


Speaking of the heat, the temperature in Tampa at kickoff is predicted to be 92 degrees with a humidity of 49 percent. San Francisco tried a unique approach to acclimate players to the hot and humid conditions in Week 1, popping up a sauna-like tent outside its practice facility earlier in the week:


There will be on-field elements, too, including plenty of oxygen, fluids and IVs available for players.

That said, it won't be shocking to see a number of players succumb to heat-related injuries, particularly cramps and exhaustion. The 49ers hope it won't be too big a factor. If it is, though, the Niners could be forced to test their depth early and often.

Winning the Turnover Differential


No team was as bad in the turnover department as San Francisco in 2018. The Niners generated a record-low seven turnovers last season, including just two interceptions. And they weren't good at protecting the ball, either, losing possessions this way 32 times -- third highest in the league.

Part of this was due to the 49ers boasting a poor secondary, which remains largely unchanged entering this season. Pro Football Focus ranked San Francisco's defensive backfield 29th in the NFL heading into 2019. But if there's a glimmer of hope for the Niners, the Buccaneers secondary was ranked dead last in the same ranking.

And while the 49ers weren't good at protecting the ball last season, the Bucs were far worse, losing turnovers 35 times in 2018 -- worst in the NFL a year ago.

Whichever secondary takes more advantage of turnovers likely winds up being on the winning side on Sunday.

49ers Pass Rush vs. Buccaneers Offensive Line


PFF also dished out a ranking extremely favorable to San Francisco in this particular contest, putting Tampa Bay's offensive line at No. 24 overall hitting the regular season.

This unit was particularly terrible during the Buccaneers' regular-season tuneup against the Cleveland Browns in Week 3 of the preseason, as quarterback Jameis Winston was under regular pressure throughout the contest. And he looked more than shaky as a result.

The Niners, meanwhile, will have a clean bill of health along their defensive line, as edge rushers Dee Ford (knee) and Nick Bosa (ankle) are expected to play for the contest. Combined with the 49ers' three other first-round draftees up front -- DeForest Buckner, Arik Armstead and Solomon Thomas -- Ford and Bosa should get a pretty juicy opportunity to showcase why San Francisco revamped its pass rush during the offseason.

If the idea that a good pass rush can cover up a questionable secondary is true, San Francisco will provide some good evidence in Week 1.

The 49ers and Buccaneers kick off on Sunday, Sept. 8 at 4:25 p.m. ET from Raymond James Stadium.
  • Peter Panacy
  • Written by:
    Peter Panacy has been writing about the 49ers since 2011 for outlets like Bleacher Report, Niner Noise, 49ers Webzone, and is occasionally heard as a guest on San Francisco's 95.7 FM The Game and the Niners' flagship station, KNBR 680. Feel free to follow him, or direct any inquiries to his Twitter account.