5 Must-Watch Matchups on San Francisco 49ers' 2014 Schedule

Peter Panacy@@PeterPanacyFeatured Columnist IVApril 24, 2014

5 Must-Watch Matchups on San Francisco 49ers' 2014 Schedule

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    The San Francisco 49ers will debut Levi's Stadium in Week 2 of the 2014 schedule.
    The San Francisco 49ers will debut Levi's Stadium in Week 2 of the 2014 schedule.Eric Risberg

    If you are a diehard San Francisco 49ers fan, you probably consider each game of the forthcoming 2014 season a must watch.

    There is nothing wrong with that.

    With the 2014 NFL schedule for the 49ers now released, San Francisco looks to cash in on a schedule that includes divisional matchups within the tough NFC West, as well as a number of other worthy opponents throughout the 16 games of the regular season.

    Highlighting the schedule will obviously be two divisional games against the reigning Super Bowl champions, the Seattle Seahawks.

    There is no question that each of these two games will be at the heart of San Francisco's 2014 schedule, and enough has already been said about the rivalry between these two foes.

    With nothing short of a Super Bowl in sight for the 49ers, their performance over these 16 games will have clear-cut implications upon how the team fares en route to another prospective playoff run.

    We all know this.

    But if we had to sit back and deduce what the five most critical and intriguing matchups would be in 2014, we would have to consider so much more than just wins and losses.

    In this slideshow, let us break down the top five must-watch games in San Francisco's upcoming regular season.  

    There is no doubting the 2014 season will be a watershed for the 49ers as they open up Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara.  

    We just have to make sure we tune in, especially when such games are far too intriguing to miss.

Just Missed the Cut

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    The crosstown rivalry between the Raiders and 49ers will feature some familiar faces.
    The crosstown rivalry between the Raiders and 49ers will feature some familiar faces.Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

    Narrowing down the 2014 49ers' schedule to just five important games is all but impossible.  Each game is critical no matter how one slices it.

    Yet there are a few games on the schedule that do not quite crack the five best to watch in 2014.

    Week 14—at Oakland Raiders

    Sunday, December 7 @ 1:25 p.m. PT on FOX

    The "Battle of the Bay" resumes in this regular-season contest between these two crosstown rivals.  

    While regularly meeting in the preseason, this is the first time the 49ers and Raiders have met during the regular season since 2010 and will feature a matchup that has more than mere territorial bragging rights.

    During the offseason, the Raiders inked former 49ers cornerbacks Tarell Brown and Carlos Rogers, bringing a sense of familiarity to Oakland's coaching staff regarding San Francisco's defense.  These familiar faces will add a little more "fuel to the fire."

    There is always attention given to any 49ers/Raiders matchup given the locale and fanbases of each team.

    Yet it is hard to fathom Oakland upsetting the 49ers in this one given the track record of both teams over the past couple of seasons.  For that reason alone, this game does not make it into the top five.

    Week 10—at New Orleans Saints

    Sunday, November 9 @ 10:00 a.m. PT on FOX

    For the third time in as many years, the 49ers will head to New Orleans to take on quarterback Drew Brees and the Saints.

    San Francisco got the best of this matchup two seasons ago, while Brees and Co. rallied past the 49ers in a controversial game in 2013.

    What will transpire this year?

    Eric Branch of SF Gate summarizes what happened last year and how it may affect the 49ers' plans for facing New Orleans in 2014:

    In the aftermath, ticked-off safety Donte Whitner vowed revenge, noting the 49ers had a “formula” to thwart the Saints’ prolific offense, which has been ordinary—22 points and 338.5 yards—in the teams’ past two meetings.  Whither is gone, but the 49ers hope the formula remains.

    Branch also points out that the 49ers own the road record against the Saints in New Orleans (24-13), so at least that is worth taking into account.

    Aside from the controversial tackle of Brees by 49ers linebacker Ahmad Brooks last season, this matchup is not quite as enticing as some of the other games San Francisco will play this season.

    Week 17—versus Arizona Cardinals

    Sunday, December 28 @ 1:25 p.m. PT on FOX

    The 49ers barely managed to squeak by the Arizona Cardinals in Week 17 last year, winning the final regular-season game on a Phil Dawson field goal as time expired.

    After missing the playoffs with a 10-6 record, the Cardinals figure to be yet another potent team within the vaunted NFC West, and the 49ers will have their hands full with Arizona's No. 1 ranked rush defense in both Weeks 3 and 17.

    This divisional rivalry is nothing on par with that of Seattle, but these two games should be no less exciting.

    Given the talent within the division, each team's standings (including the Seahawks) could very well be in the air come Week 17.  Needless to say, there may be a lot on the line when San Francisco hosts Arizona to close out the regular season.

    That aspect makes this game enticing enough given the potential consequences associated with a win or loss.  Yet the fact Arizona does not quite hold the same spot in 49ers fans' hearts as does Seattle, keeps this game just out of the top five.

Week 2: 49ers vs. Bears

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    The 49ers demolished the Bears 32-7 the last time these two teams met.
    The 49ers demolished the Bears 32-7 the last time these two teams met.Marcio Jose Sanchez

    Week 2—versus Chicago Bears

    Sunday, September 14 @ 5:30 p.m. PT on NBC

    The moment all 49ers fans have been waiting for will kick off on Sunday, September 14 as the 49ers host the Chicago Bears on Sunday Night Football.

    The long-awaited debut of Levi's Stadium finally takes place in Week 2 as San Francisco kicks off its 2014 home campaign against a Bears team that just missed making the playoffs last season.

    Sure, fans will have already seen the 49ers grace the field in Santa Clara during the preseason, but this time the game counts and it will be the true test of just how loud Levi's Stadium will be.

    Had this game been played in the middle of the season, it would not have made the list of top-five games to watch in 2014.

    Yet this is the official 49ers debut of Levi's Stadium, and there is no doubt that every 49ers fan will want to see what transpires.

    As far as any rivalry is concerned, San Francisco and Chicago do not share much by the way of grudges.  James Brady of Niners Nation points this out by writing:

    When I look at the roster, I don't see a whole lot that inspires any kind of rivalry.  Jay Cutler is fun to make a good deal of jokes about, but there's definitely no hostility there.  So from that aspect, this isn't a very inspiring game.  I'm finding no reasons to say the 49ers definitively have to win this game based on the team that they're playing.  But it still would be nice to do anyway, right?

    The 49ers would love nothing more than to break in the new stadium with a W, and doing so against a Bears team that San Francisco trounced in 2012 (32-7) would be the perfect start.

    Chicago's 2013 playoff hopes do not indicate what type of team it truly is carrying over into this season.  An 8-8 record within a relatively weak NFC North (notable considering the lengthy absence of Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers), sheds some light onto what the Bears' chances in 2014 really are.

    While Chicago's pass defense ranked No. 18 in the NFL last season (3,730), the Bears simply could not stop the run.  They allowed a league-worst 2,583 rushing yards in 2013.

    With that in mind, Frank Gore and Co. should be able to run wild in Week 2.

    On another note, it is worth pointing out the 49ers beat the Bears for their first win at Candlestick Park back in 1971.

Week 5: 49ers vs. Chiefs

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    Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith returns to San Francisco for the first time since being traded.
    Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith returns to San Francisco for the first time since being traded.Reed Hoffmann

    Week 5—versus Kansas City Chiefs

    Sunday, October 5 @ 1:25 p.m. PDT on CBS

    Welcome back, Alex Smith.

    For the first time since his trade to the Kansas City Chiefs prior to the 2013 season, the former 2005 first-overall pick of the 49ers will step on the field against his old team in a regular-season game.

    Aside from the buzz created by this reunion game, San Francisco's hosting of the Chiefs will be no joke.

    Kansas City's 2013 turnaround season—11-5 record in the AFC West—can be credited largely to the excellent work put in by head coach Andy Reid, as well as a top-ranked defense (No. 9 overall in total yards allowed).

    Both the 49ers and Chiefs figure to have excellent defenses in 2014, which makes this contest all the more exciting.

    This strength-versus-strength challenge would almost be worthy of a top-five selection of must-watch games in San Francisco's 2014 schedule.

    Yet the return of Smith to San Francisco is the key aspect that gives this game worthiness.  Fans caught a glimpse of what Smith could do against the 49ers in the preseason last year.  But this game means something, and there is no doubt that both parties want to get the best of each other.

    Eric Branch of SF Gate summarizes the transaction that sent Smith to Kansas City and lays out a possible implication of the deal as it carries over into Week 5:

    Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith—remember him?—will face his former team for the first time since he was traded last year for what turned out be two second-round picks.  The 49ers hope one of those picks, defensive end Tank Carradine, will be pressuring Smith after a knee injury kept him sidelined as a rookie.

    What Branch is essentially saying is this—the 49ers were able to land Carradine because they traded Smith.  Carradine could be the first to remind Smith why the 49ers made the deal last season.

    Either way, 49ers fans will want to see Smith's reunion with the 49ers in San Francisco.  While these two tough teams will battle it out, the storylines surrounding Smith will be the primary focus of this must-see game.

Week 13: 49ers vs. Seahawks

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    Quarterbacks Colin Kaepernick (left) and Russell Wilson (right) will have to wait until Week 13 to square off in 2014.
    Quarterbacks Colin Kaepernick (left) and Russell Wilson (right) will have to wait until Week 13 to square off in 2014.Marcio Jose Sanchez

    Week 13—versus Seattle Seahawks

    Thursday, November 27 @ 5:30 p.m. PST on NBC

    The 49ers have to wait until Week 13 before taking on their bitter rivals, the Seattle Seahawks, in a grudge match of last season's NFC Championship Game.  

    No doubting San Francisco will be circling its calendar for this prime-time Thursday Night Football contest on Thanksgiving.

    The bad news is this—the 49ers will have to face off with the defending Super Bowl champs in a shortened week.  The good news, however, is that the Seahawks will have to travel to Santa Clara following what could be a grueling game in Seattle against the Arizona Cardinals.

    From the 49ers' vantage point, a banged-up Seahawks team would provide the perfect opportunity for San Francisco to get some revenge after what transpired last season.

    In a way, the Seahawks' 2014 schedule benefits the 49ers.  Matt Maiocco of CSN Bay Area points out that Seattle has far more obstacles during its schedule compared to those of the 49ers.

    Seattle opens up the season with three contests against playoff teams—the Green Bay Packers, San Diego Chargers and Denver Broncos, respectively.

    On the other hand, San Francisco has to contend with zero playoff teams during the same span—the Dallas Cowboys, Chicago Bears and Cardinals (although Arizona and its emerging defense is certainly playoff-worthy).

    What does all of this mean to the first matchup between Seattle and San Francisco?

    Aside from where each franchise stands within the division and in the playoff picture, absolutely nothing.

    Both teams will be gunning for each other over the course of this game, far beyond the simple implications regarding each team's standings.

    Cornerback Richard Sherman will certainly receive his share of boos from the 49ers faithful while he matches up against the 49ers' Michael Crabtree.  

    That battle alone would be worth the price of admission.

    There will also be the closely monitored performances of quarterbacks Colin Kaepernick and Russell Wilson along with the showdown between two elite defenses.

    The 49ers own an 8-6 record at home against Seattle, but that record essentially goes out the door when it comes to these NFC West powerhouses.

Week 7: 49ers at Broncos

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    Colin Kaepernick (left) and Peyton Manning (right) will square off in this heralded Week 7 matchup.
    Colin Kaepernick (left) and Peyton Manning (right) will square off in this heralded Week 7 matchup.Marcio Jose Sanchez

    Week 7—at Denver Broncos

    Sunday, October 19 @ 5:30 p.m. PST on NBC

    Oh, what could have been.

    As Taylor Price of 49ers.com writes, both the 49ers and Broncos have one thing in common—both had their respective 2013 seasons ended by the hands of the Seattle Seahawks.

    We can stop with the what-ifs and instead focus on this dynamic showdown between two NFL powerhouses as the 49ers take to the road in this enticing Sunday Night Football feature.

    The storylines are simple—Peyton Manning versus Colin Kaepernick, Denver's offense versus the 49ers defense, two well-rounded teams vying for Super Bowl redemption in 2014, etc.

    Let us dive into each of these.

    As far as the passing offense is concerned, there is obviously the largest of differences between Denver and San Francisco.  While the 49ers' 2013 pass offense ranked No. 30 in the league with 2,979 yards, the Broncos led the NFL with a whopping 5,444 yards.

    Manning can throw the ball.  Enough said.

    Denver's vaunted offensive weapons like Demaryius Thomas, Julius Thomas and free-agent acquisition Emmanuel Sanders will try to create headaches in San Francisco's secondary.  

    Can 49ers defensive coordinator Vic Fangio's defense step up and throw off Manning's passing game much like Seattle did in Super Bowl XLVIII?

    On the flip side, Kaepernick will have to contend with a Broncos defense that ranked 19th in the league last year and allowed the sixth-highest passing yards in the NFL (4,070).

    Will Kaepernick, and a (hopefully) improved 49ers receiving corps, take advantage of this in Week 7?  

    As Eric Branch of SF Gate writes, "Colin Kaepernick vs. Manning figures be an intriguing new-age-vs.-old-school prime-time showdown."

    Nothing wrong with tuning into that.

    Both Denver and San Francisco want to avenge their recent Super Bowl losses in the past two seasons.  The 49ers were close.  Denver, not so much.

    Still, these two teams may look across the field at each other as potential Super Bowl XLIX favorites.  As a result, expect both the 49ers and Broncos to play each other as if a Lombardi Trophy was on the line. 

    PRIMETIME, #49ers at #Broncos is a game to see. Sticking to my guns -- think San Francisco will beat them up like Seattle did.

    — Dylan DeSimone (@DeSimone80) April 23, 2014

Week 15: 49ers at Seahawks

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    There will be plenty of talk regarding the 49ers' Michael Crabtree (left) and Seahawks' Richard Sherman (right) in Week 15.
    There will be plenty of talk regarding the 49ers' Michael Crabtree (left) and Seahawks' Richard Sherman (right) in Week 15.Marcio Jose Sanchez

    Week 15—at Seattle Seahawks

    Sunday, December 14 @ 1:25 p.m. PST on FOX

    There are so many angles that one could take when breaking down San Francisco's Week 15 matchup on the road when it visits the Seattle Seahawks at CenturyLink Field.

    With respect to each team's playoff outlooks during the season, a late regular-season game like this could carry huge implications regarding the standings within the division, as well as the overall playoff picture in the NFC.

    On top of that is the rivalry between these two foes—a rivalry made even more bitter following last season's NFC championship loss in Seattle and all the talk between 49ers wide receiver Michael Crabtree and Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman.

    That alone would make San Francisco's return to CenturyLink intriguing.

    Yet this is even more compounded by the 49ers' recent struggles on the road in Seattle.  The 49ers have not won on the road versus the Seahawks since 2011, and quarterback Colin Kaepernick's 53.4 passer rating is his lowest against any of the 49ers' divisional opponents.

    Can he and the 49ers offense sustain the noise level in Seattle?

    We will have to wait until Week 15 to find out.

    Taylor Price of 49ers.com tabs this contest as the most intriguing of San Francisco's 2014 schedule.  He writes:

    San Francisco’s season ended in Seattle, and a road rematch against the division, conference and Super Bowl champs will be the game of the year.  Sure, each week is important in the NFL, but let’s be 100 percent honest about this here.  The 49ers-Seahawks rivalry is arguably the best in the NFL these days.  Both teams have pushed each other in recent years to play their best football. Every game they play, whether it’s in Seattle or San Francisco, is one of the most talked about games of the year.

    Both teams have exchanged plenty of blows in recent years, both on and off the field.  With the talent levels the way they are on both teams, combined with the elements of the rivalry, this game is one fans will not miss. 

    2014 NFL Schedule: Highlighting the 25 Biggest Games of the Year No.1 San Francisco 49ers at Seattle Seahawks Week 15

    — Joe Kasper (@JDog5897) April 24, 2014

    There you have it—the five must-watch games on the 49ers' 2014 regular-season schedule.

    While each game is important, these five are ones that fans will not want to miss.  

    Wondering how the 49ers will fare in each of these games?  Take a look at Bleacher Report NFC West lead writer Tyson Langland's most recent win/loss predictions.

    Until then, let us count down the days until the 2014 season kicks off.

    How do you feel about the five must-watch games on the 49ers' 2014 schedule?  Chime in on the comments section!

    All statistics, records and accolades courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference.com unless otherwise indicated.

    Peter Panacy is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report, covering the San Francisco 49ers.  Follow him @PeterMcShots on Twitter.