After eight long months, San Francisco 49ers football is finally back.
The team kicks off the 2015 regular season this week with a showdown against the Minnesota Vikings on "Monday Night Football."
The game marks the debut of the Jim Tomsula coaching era as he aims to lead a new-look 49ers roster back to the postseason following an 8-8 campaign a year ago.
To do so, San Francisco will have to navigate the third-toughest schedule in the NFL. Here, we offer our initial thoughts on each of the team's 16 matchups in 2015.
(Note: All times are PT)
Week 1: Monday, Sept. 14, vs. Minnesota, 7:20 p.m.
The obvious storyline is Adrian Peterson and NaVorro Bowman making their respective returns. Peterson, a six-time Pro Bowl selection and the NFL's MVP in 2012, sat out all but one game last year due to legal issues. Meanwhile, Bowman missed all of 2014 recovering from a severe knee injury that he suffered in the 2013 NFC Championship game. Bowman looked like his old self in two standout preseason performances. This matchup is also the first "Monday Night Football" telecast at Levi's® Stadium. Winning in Week 1 will be crucial for the 49ers, as they face playoff teams from 2014 in five of their next six games.
Week 2: Sunday, Sept. 20, at Pittsburgh, 10 a.m.
The Steelers open their season playing the defending-champion New England Patriots on Thursday. That means they will have a few extra days to prepare for the 49ers, who will be traveling cross-country on a short week. The good news? The Steelers will be without top rusher Le'Veon Bell and deep-threat wide receiver Martavis Bryant, both of whom are serving suspensions. This game will have signifcant meaning to Tomsula, a native of nearby Homestead, Pa. Many family members, including his parents, still live in the area.
Week 3: Sunday, Sept. 27, at Arizona, 1:05 p.m.
Mike Iupati facing his former team was initially billed as the top headline, but the longtime 49ers guard recently underwent knee surgery and isn't expected to be ready again for the Cardinals until October. The Arizona offensive line allowed 10 sacks this preseason. Last year, the 49ers lost a tough one in the desert, 23-14, after leading by eight points at halftime. Anquan Boldin playing against Arizona is always entertaining, as the wide receiver has averaged 87.8 yards per game versus the team that drafted him.
Week 4: Sunday, Oct. 4, vs. Green Bay, 1:25 p.m.
It's no secret that Colin Kaepernick has owned his childhood team. In three career games versus the Packers, the 49ers signal-caller has averaged 301 passing yards, 100 rushing yards and accounted for eight touchdowns. Kaepernick rushed for an NFL-record 181 yards and two scores in his first playoff game on Jan. 12, 2013 in Green Bay. The 49ers have won four consecutive games overall against the Packers, including two postseason victories.
Week 5: Sunday, Oct. 11, at NY Giants, 5:30 p.m.
This game marks the first of three straight matchups against the teams that knocked the 49ers out of the playoffs from 2011-13. Last season, the 49ers defense stepped up in a huge way against the Giants, picking off Eli Manning five times in a 16-10 win at MetLife Field. Locking down superstar wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. will obviously be paramount this week.
Week 6: Sunday, Oct. 18, vs. Baltimore, 1:25 p.m.
In a rematch of Super Bowl XLVII, San Francisco plays host to a team it knows all too well. Last year, the 49ers spent a week in Maryland training with the Ravens at their practice facility. This game also features wide receivers Boldin and Torrey Smith battling against their former team. Smith lived in Maryland his whole life before signing with San Francisco this offseason. Boldin has tallied 276 receiving yards in two career games versus Baltimore.
Week 7: Thursday, Oct. 22, vs. Seattle, 5:25 p.m.
On Thanksgiving night last November, the 49ers fell to the Seahawks, 19-3, in a defeat that was tough to swallow. San Francisco hosts its NFC West rival once again on primetime and will be looking to snap a three-game slide to Seattle. Barring injury, Bowman will face the Seahawks for the first time since sustaining the devastating injury in the 2013 NFC Championship game. This contest also marks the first of four divisional games for the 49ers in a six-week span.
Week 8: Sunday, Nov. 1, at St. Louis, 10 a.m.
New under center this year for the Rams is Nick Foles, formerly of the Philadelphia Eagles. Foles visited Santa Clara last year with the Eagles, and the 49ers defense picked him off twice in a 26-21 victory. When San Francisco visited St. Louis in 2014, the team erased an early two-touchdown deficit to capture the franchise's NFL-leading 46th win on "Monday Night Football."
Week 9: Sunday, Nov. 8, vs. Atlanta, 1:05 p.m.
This game marks the Falcons first trip back to San Francisco since Bowman's famed "Pick at the 'Stick" in the final game at Candlestick Park in 2013. Atlanta has a new coach this season, but the 49ers are already plenty familiar with him. Dan Quinn was the Seahawks defensive coordinator before taking the job in Atlanta. New 49ers quarterback coach Steve Logan will square off against his former pupil at Boston College, Falcons franchise signal-caller Matt Ryan.
Week 10: Sunday, Nov. 15, BYE
This is the first time since 2003 that the 49ers have their bye in Week 10. On an unrelated note, San Francisco is one of just nine teams in 2015 that won't face any opponent coming off its bye.
Week 11: Sunday, Nov. 22, at Seattle, 1:25 p.m.
After their game against the Falcons, the 49ers will have 13 days to prepare for their visit to CenturyLink Field. Meanwhile, the Seahawks play on "Sunday Night Football" the week prior versus the Cardinals, a game that should be another slugfest. Last December, the 49ers took a 7-3 lead into halftime in Seattle before falling short down the stretch, 17-7.
Week 12: Sunday, Nov. 29, vs. Arizona 1:05 p.m.
Tomsula already has one NFL coaching victory under his belt. As interim coach for the 49ers 2010 regular-season finale, Tomsula's squad defeated the Cardinals, 38-7, at Candlestick Park. Tomsula will look to win his second straight home game against Arizona, while the Cardinals will try snap a six-game losing streak in San Francisco.
Week 13: Sunday, Dec. 6, at Chicago, 10 a.m.
In another revenge game, the 49ers will look to get even in Chicago after the Bears spoiled the opening of Levi's® Stadium last season. San Francisco held a 13-point lead heading into the fourth quarter but allowed three touchdowns in the final period in a 28-20 loss. Another storyline to follow for this matchup is new Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio scheming against his previous employer.
Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 13, at Cleveland, 10 a.m.
Defensive coordinator Eric Mangini returns to Cleveland, where he was the head coach for two seasons from 2009-10. Mangini owned a 10-22 record at the helm of the Browns but never had a roster built to contend. This matchup will also pit Donte Whitner against his former team. The Browns safety spent three years in San Francisco, making the Pro Bowl in two of them. There's no telling if the 49ers will have to gameplan for second-year Browns signal-caller Johnny Mazniel, who is always at the top of the headlines.
Week 15: Sunday, Dec. 20, Vs. Cincinnati, 5:30 p.m.
Five quarterbacks were selected ahead of Kaepernick in the 2011 draft. One of them was Bengals signal-caller Andy Dalton, who was taken one spot prior to Kaepernick. This game marks the first time the two young quarterbacks have played each other. They each signed lengthy contract extensions last offseason. For the record, Kaepernick has won four playoff games to Dalton's none.
Week 16: Sunday, Dec. 27, at Detroit, 10 a.m.
The Lions finally broke through last season and made the playoffs for just the second time since 1999. They still haven't won their division since 1991, but they finished 7-1 at home in 2014 and figure to be tough again this year with Calvin Johnson, Golden Tate and Matthew Stafford leading the offense. One force the 49ers won't have to deal with is Ndamukong Suh, who signed as a free agent with the Miami Dolphins this offseason.
Week 17: Sunday, Jan. 3, vs. St. Louis, 1:25 p.m.
The Rams last visit to Levi's® Stadium ended in controversy when it was ruled that Kaepernick fumbled at the goal line prior to breaking the plane for the game-winning touchdown with just seconds left in the fourth quarter. The play was reviewed but without the proper camera angle, the call on the field stood. This year, the NFL will test using fixed cameras to better assist replay reviews.