The San Francisco 49ers, despite succeeding enough to make the NFC Championship Game in 2021, still had some tough decisions to make this offseason.
The first was at quarterback where the front office felt that Jimmy Garoppolo wasn't the man to take them forward, so he was demoted and former third overall draft pick Trey Lance installed as starter.
Other roster holes and underperforming units, like the secondary and pass rush, were addressed in free agency while a surprise trade request from top offensive weapon Deebo Samuel was dealt with in a manner that seems to be keeping the peace.
With hybrid superstar Samuel, top tight end George Kittle and the blossoming wideout threat of Brandon Aiyuk, the Niners have assembled enough talent around Lance for the 22-year-old to thrive.
But pinning the franchise's hopes on a relatively raw and untested triggerman has put Kyle Shanahan's team on a potentially rocky path in the short term.
|What:||NFL Season 2022/23|
|Where:||All across the U.S.A with three games scheduled for London, one for Munich and one in Mexico City.|
|When:||September 8th 2022 - February 12th 2023|
|How to watch:||The vast majority of games are live and on-demand with NFL Game Pass, while selected games are available via Sky Sports, Channel 5 and Amazon Prime.|
BUF Bills (6/1), TB Buccaneers (7/1), KC Chiefs (10/1), LA Rams (11/1), GB Packers (12/1).
3rd NFC West (10-7)
San Francisco were 3-5 and teetering on becoming irrelevant last season before a Week 10 victory over the Los Angeles Rams kickstarted their playoff run.
But, having given the Arizona Cardinals too much of a headstart, they were still only able to finish third in a division they were expected to win before a ball was snapped.
Shanahan's men will expect to be in the shake-up for division honors again this year with the 13/10 Rams and 10/3 Cardinals again the biggest threats.
The Niners are 17/10 to finish first, 19/10 to take the runners-up spot and 14/5 to come in third just as last season.
The 49ers will not be too disappointed to be opening up on the road against the Chicago Bears. Soldier Field can be freezing in December so it will good for the visiting players to get this game out of the way early before the cold weather sets in.
It will make for an interesting matchup between two second-year quarterbacks that were selected within a few picks of each other in the 2021 draft.
Bears QB Justin Fields, who was the No.11 overall selection, got his opportunity to start much sooner than Lance and faced the 49ers in the corresponding matchup last season.
Fields had a good game - throwing for 175 yards and a TD while taking off for over 100 yards rushing when flushed out of the pocket.
However, the game ended in a 22-33 defeat for the Bears with Fields throwing an interception on Chicago's final drive.
The Bears may not be able to start with a win, but they are not complete outsiders according to the Spread, which has Chicago at 5/2 and the Niners at 1/3 to cover.
The two clashes with the Rams will be crucial to determining division supremacy and the Niners will want to avenge last season's NFC Championship Game loss to the eventual Super Bowl winners.
The first comes in Week 4 at Levi's Stadium - where Deebo Samuel scored two TDs as the Niners recorded a 31-10 win over the Rams last November.
The return game at SoFi Stadium is in Week 8 and gives the Rams a significant advantage as they are coming off a bye week while San Francisco could be battle-scarred from an intense Week 7 encounter with the Kansas City Chiefs - the team that denied them Super Bowl glory three years ago.
The other interesting wrinkle to the Niners' schedule, which includes nine home games this year, is the trip to Mexico City to face the Arizona Cardinals in Week 11.
It's tough on Cardinals fans to lose a home game from their schedule - especially when it's against a division rival - but all indications are that there will be more support for the Niners at Estadio Azteca.
With two NFC Championship Game appearances and a trip to the Super Bowl in his first five seasons as head coach, the Niners must be delighted they chose the former Atlanta Falcons offensive coordinator to be their HC in 2017.
In Atlanta, he had helped the Falcons reach Super Bowl LI, with his play-calling pushing them into a 28-3 lead over the New England Patriots.
However, critics were later lining up to call him too aggressive for not using a ball-control running attack late in the game which resulted in the Falcons losing by a score of 34-28 in overtime.
Shanahan had some bad luck with injuries to key players in his first couple of years at the helm before overseeing dramatic improvement in 2019 as the 49ers finished top of the NFC West with a 13-3 regular season record and went on to meet the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LIV.
LB - Oren Burks (Green Bay Packers)
CB - Charvarius Ward (Kansas City Chiefs)
DT - Hassan Ridgeway (Philadelphia Eagles)
WR -Ray-Ray McCloud (Pittsburgh Steelers)
S - George Odum (Indianapolis Colts)
DE - Kerry Hyder (Seattle Seahawks)
WR - Malik Turner (Dallas Cowboys)
DE - Kemoko Turay (Indianapolis Colts)
TE - Tyler Kroft (New York Jets)
DT - Akeem Spence (Denver Broncos)
WR- Willie Snead (Carolina Panthers)
S - Tashaun Gipson (Chicago Bears)
OG - Blake Hance (Cleveland Browns)
OG - Laken Tomlinson (New York Jets)
DT - D. J. Jones (Denver Broncos)
RB - Raheem Mostert (Miami Dolphins)
CB - K'Waun Williams (Denver Broncos)
RB - Trey Sermon (Philadelphia Eagles)
S - Marcell Harris (New York Jets)
WR - Mohamed Sanu (Miami Dolphins)
FS - Jaquiski Tartt (Philadelphia Eagles)
C - Alex Mack
SS - Tavon Wilson
OT - Tom Compton (Denver Broncos)
WR - Trent Sherfield (Miami Dolphins)
RB - Trenton Cannon (Tennessee Titans)
DE - Arden Key (Jacksonville Jaguars)
DE - Kentavius Street (New Orleans Saints)
Offensive MVP Deebo Samuel
Defensive MVP Nick Bosa
Top rookie DE Drake Jackson (1st Round)
Breakout star RB Elijah Mitchell
Samuel, 12/1 to be the Offensive Player of the Year, requested a shock trade ahead of the 2022 draft - although the matter was eventually resolved with a three-year contract extension for the wide receiver/rushing hybrid.
Speculation has since centred around a possible change of role again into a more conventional wideout, so we will have to see how the Niners try to get him into space to use his playmaking skills in 2022.
The 49ers struggled to pressure opposing quarterbacks last year, finishing with a lowly rank of 30th in pressure rate, but Bosa certainly can't be blamed for it as he notched 15.5 sacks last year.
The consistently excellent Fred Warner deserves an honorable mention as the team's defensive MVP too as he leads arguably the strongest unit on the roster.
Running back Mitchell had a brilliant 2021 campaign too, despite being just a sixth-round pick.
The ex-Louisiana Ragin' Cajuns star rushed for 963 yards and five touchdowns in just 11 games, setting the franchise record for most rushing yards by a rookie.