NBCSBA Spotlight: Five 49ers Players to Watch vs. Cardinals in Week 1

The Arizona Cardinals proved to be a difficult matchup for the 49ers last season.

The 49ers finished 13-3, won the NFC West and plowed through the NFC side of the bracket and into the Super Bowl. But in two games against the Cardinals (5-10-1), the 49ers narrowly escaped with victories.

The Cardinals could be a vastly improved team this season, looking to accomplish a turnaround like the 49ers pulled off in 2019.

This game will not be an easy task for the 49ers. Here are five players who will have to step up in order for Kyle Shanahan's team to open the season with a victory in front of no fans Sunday at Levi's Stadium:

1. QB Jimmy Garoppolo

Few quarterbacks around the NFL seem to be as polarizing as Garoppolo. Is he elite? Is he average? Is he holding the 49ers back?

In his first full season as a starter, Garoppolo put together a very good season and the 49ers advanced to the Super Bowl. Garoppolo could have been in position for Super Bowl MVP. Then, the fourth quarter happened.

Everyone around the 49ers is expecting Garoppolo's production to increase this season with another year of experience and understanding within Shanahan's system. But it will be difficult for him to improve on what he did last year against the Arizona Cardinals.

In two games against Arizona, Garoppolo threw for 741 yards and eight touchdowns with a passer rating of 125.1.

"He played as good as anybody played against us all year in both games," Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury said. "I'm a big fan of his. I think he's a special talent."