San Francisco 49ers

Why 49ers’ young cornerbacks could be facing a big problem against Panthers

Buckner is stronger, wiser and among 49ers to watch in season opener

Matt Barrows previews the Week 1 game at Levi's Stadium on Sunday, September 10, with insight on likely highlights.
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Matt Barrows previews the Week 1 game at Levi's Stadium on Sunday, September 10, with insight on likely highlights.

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.

Injury report

49ERS

  • Doubtful: S Jimmie Ward (hamstring)
  • Questionable: DE Aaron Lynch (back)

PANTHERS

  • Out: LB Jared Norris (groin)
  • Doubtful: DT Vernon Butler (knee)
  • Questionable: DT Kyle Love (ankle), QB Cam Newton (right shoulder)

Schedule

Date

Opponent

Time

Sunday

vs. Carolina

1:25 p.m.

Sept. 17

at Seattle

1:25 p.m.

Sept. 21

vs. L.A. Rams

5:25 p.m.

Oct. 1

at Arizona

1:05 p.m.

Oct. 8

at Indianapolis

10 a.m.

Oct. 15

at Washington

10 a.m

Oct. 22

vs. Dallas

1:05 p.m.

Oct. 29

at Philadelphia

10 a.m.

Nov. 5

vs. Arizona

1:05 p.m.

Nov. 12

vs. N.Y. Giants

1:25 p.m.

Nov. 26

vs. Seattle

1:05 p.m.

Dec. 3

at Chicago

10 a.m.

Dec. 10

at Houston

10 a.m.

Dec. 17

vs. Tennessee

1:25 p.m.

Dec. 24

vs. Jacksonville

1:05 p.m.

Dec. 31

at L.A. Rams

1:25 p.m.

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