Buckner is stronger, wiser and among 49ers to watch in season opener
The 49ers open their season against the Carolina Panthers at Levi’s Stadium on Sunday at 1:25 p.m. Here’s what you need to know and three things to watch:
- Line: Panthers by 5 1/2
- Records (2016): 49ers 2-14, Panthers 6-10
- TV/radio: Ch. 40 (Thom Brennaman, Chris Spielman), 1050, 1320
Running back roulette
In one way, the 49ers have an advantage because they have been almost entirely rebuilt since last season and are playing their first game. But the Panthers have a few new bells and whistles, too, including rookies Christian McCaffrey and Curtis Samuel. Both are capable of lining up at running back, slot receiver and outside receiver, which means that nearly every 49ers linebacker, cornerback or safety could be responsible for them at some point.
Big problem at receiver
Carolina’s top receiver, Kelvin Benjamin, has been battling his weight since the spring and he reported to training camp at a hefty 243 pounds. He was a handful for the 49ers in last season’s Week 2 loss to Carolina, catching seven passes for 108 yards and two touchdowns. He’ll be an early test for San Francisco’s inexperienced cornerbacks.
Best linebacker duo?
While the 49ers’ NaVorro Bowman and Reuben Foster have a shot at that title, the Panthers’ Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis lay claim to it at the moment. The two combined for more than 200 tackles last season, plus Davis intercepted three passes. The 49ers running backs had a tough time in the preseason with Carlos Hyde averaging just 2.6 yards. They could have a difficult afternoon against a Panthers run defense that ranked sixth in the NFL last season.
- Doubtful: S Jimmie Ward (hamstring)
- Questionable: DE Aaron Lynch (back)
- Out: LB Jared Norris (groin)
- Doubtful: DT Vernon Butler (knee)
- Questionable: DT Kyle Love (ankle), QB Cam Newton (right shoulder)
vs. L.A. Rams
vs. N.Y. Giants
at L.A. Rams