Where 49ers stand ahead of season opener vs. Steelers

An NFL offseason rife with seismic changes finally has come to an end, with the defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs and preseason darling Detroit Lions (yes, you read that right) set to kick off the 2023 season Thursday.

The past six months had a little bit of everything, and the landscape of the league was unmistakably changed as a result.

Tom Brady? Retired for good (we think) and off to hock men’s underwear and sit ringside at prize fights. Aaron Rodgers? Finally forced his way out of Green Bay to the beautiful pastures of East Rutherford, New Jersey, where hype and a staved Jets fanbase await him. That paved the way for Jordan Love to take over at Lambeau Field, where a rational fan base expects him to follow in the 30-year footsteps of Rodgers and Brett Favre. No pressure, Jordan.

The 49ers added more talent to their defense and washed their hands of an all-time draft blunder. The Cincinnati Bengals got Joe Burrow a new left tackle, the Philadelphia Eagles went draft shopping in Athens, Georgia again, and Bill Belichick came to his senses and hired Bill O’Brien to run his offense, jettisoning Matt Patricia to parts unknown (Philadelphia).

It’s time to tell if all these moves will pay dividends, and we’re kicking off the season with the latest iteration of my NFL Power Rankings. Feel free to yell at me on Twitter, I expect it.

  • Kansas City Chiefs: New pieces on the offensive line, Chris Jones’ hold out, and an uncertain receiver group might up the level of difficulty for Patrick Mahomes in 2023. Everyone needs a challenge.

  • Philadelphia Eagles: Howie Roseman’s plan to draft the entire 2021-22 Georgia defense is a hard one to poke holes in. Jalen Carter was a wrecking ball in the preseason, and Nolan Smith could very well end up being the steal of the 2023 first round.

  • San Francisco 49ers: Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch need to wash off the grime from the Trey Lance disaster, but they have another pressing matter to deal with as they take stock of their win-now roster. Bosa? Bosa?

  • Cincinnati Bengals: All the talk surrounds the right calf of Joe Burrow. If the Bengals star quarterback is 100 percent healthy, the roster is in an excellent position to make another deep postseason run. The lack of quality offensive line depth is reason for pause, but the Bengals should still be considered one of the top AFC frontrunners after the Chiefs.

  •  Buffalo Bills: This iteration of the Bills will get one more crack at a title before some retooling around Josh Allen begins. There’s once again significant hype around the Bills entering the season. Did everyone forget the violent nature in which they threw up on themselves last January?

  • Dallas Cowboys: Dallas has arguably the NFL’s best defense and is loaded on offense. So, how will the Cowboys screw it up this year?

  •  Los Angeles Chargers: The horrendous 27-point meltdown against the Jaguars was enough for Brandon Staley to finally give offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi, aka Captain Dink and Dunk, his walking papers. If the Bolts fall short of expectations again this fall, it likely will be the end of Staley’s time in L.A.

  •  Pittsburgh Steelers: Here’s your first preseason hype darling. Kenny Pickett looked outstanding during the exhibition slate, Year 2 George Pickens appears primed for a big leap, and a revamped inside linebacking corps should shore up the Steelers’ biggest defensive weakness. First-round pick Broderick Jones not winning the starting left tackle job is a problem to monitor, but I’m buying all the Steelers stock entering Week 1.

  •  Baltimore Ravens: Lamar Jackson got the bag he deserved and some new offensive weapons as a bonus. New offensive coordinator Todd Monken promises to spice up an offense that got stale and predictable under Greg Roman. Lamar’s health, a thin outside linebacking corps, and questions at corner have me selling my stock in the Ravens as a legitimate Super Bowl threat. Good team, too many questions to be title-worthy.

  • New York Jets: Aaron Rodgers and New York had the suits at The Shield salivating all summer. The hype train has already jumped the rails. But the Jets have a brutal first eight games, have real offensive line questions, and a 40-year-old quarterback who didn’t exactly light the world on fire last season. I won’t be buying a ticket for this ride.

  • Seattle Seahawks: Jaxon Smith-Njigba is hurt. So is Devon Witherspoon. The Seahawks also haven’t found a starting boundary corner opposite Tariq Woolen. Did I mention their heaviest interior defensive linemen is listed at 306? That doesn’t bode well for stopping the run. Things might be rocky out of the gates in the PNW.

  • Detroit Lions: Are we sure the Detroit Lions – those Lions – are going to be for real this year? I have to see it first.

  • Jacksonville Jaguars: Trevor Lawrence is ascending, and now he has a true No. 1 receiver in Calvin Ridley. But the Jaguars will only be as good as the leap their young defenders – Travon Walker, Devin Lloyd, K’Lavon Chaisson – take this fall.

  • Green Bay Packers: There’s no way the Packers found another franchise quarterback, right? Jordan Love has to be a bust, doesn’t he? The thing is, the Packers don’t need Love to be great in 2023. They are loaded on defense and have one of the best offensive lines in the NFL. If he can be a tick above what hurt/checked-out Rodgers was last season, they can win a weak NFC North.

  • Cleveland Browns: Cleveland has a loaded roster with a $250 million question mark hanging over its season. Will the Deshaun Watson of 2019 return? Or is the guy who stunk up the place for six games last season here to stay?

  • Miami Dolphins: The Jalen Ramsey injury is a blow, but Vic Fangio should be able to find a way to weather that storm. The Dolphins are stacked with talent but face a treacherous AFC schedule. If they can get a healthy season from Tua Tagovailoa, they can compete for a Super Bowl. If not, then they’ll wither and die on the vine.

  • New England Patriots: Here’s another team whose stock I’m buying. With a living, breathing offensive coordinator back in the fold, Mac Jones should be much better this fall. The Patriots have one of the league’s best defenses and completely aced the draft with Christian Gonzalez, Keion White, and Marte Mapu. Don’t be surprised if they are playing on Wild Card Weekend.

  • New York Giants: Love Brian Daboll, Mike Kafka, and Wink Martindale, but the Giants have a brutal road right out of the gate, and some of the 2022 playoff teams will regress. Here’s one of the better candidates.

  • Minnesota Vikings: Speaking of regression to the mean, the Vikings largely luck-sacked their way into a 13-4 record last fall. That won’t be the case this year, and there’s a world where the “competitively rebuilding” Vikings stumble out of the chute and try to plummet into the Caleb Williams sweepstakes.

  • Tennessee Titans: I promised myself I’d stop doubting Mike Vrabel coached teams three years ago, but I rarely take my own advice. This year is different. Vrabel was one game away from leading a Titans team that had 34 players spend time on IR to the playoffs. They’ll be there in December with a chance to win the AFC South. Always are.

  • New Orleans Saints: Dennis Allen is minus value as a head coach, and I’m not a Derek Carr believer. The Saints might be the best team in a putrid division. Despite my objections, they still let those teams into the postseason.

  • Chicago Bears: The Bears have a lot more talent than they did 365 days ago. But there are still questions on both lines of scrimmage, which could make a jump from three wins to nine or 10 extremely difficult. The Bears have raved about Justin Fields’ progress in Year 2 of the offense, and there’s significant belief that a big step forward is coming. Not MVP big, but a sizable jump. If the other parts are serviceable, that might be enough to make the playoffs in a bad NFC

  • Atlanta Falcons: Bijan, Pitts, and London. That’s a hell of a skill group. But Desmond Ridder ain’t it.

  • Las Vegas Raiders: Are the Raiders rebuilding or trying to win? I’m not sure they know. But hey, at least Mark Davis finally has the money to pay Khalil Mack, thanks to ticket sales in Vegas. Positive steps for the franchise.

  •  Carolina Panthers: I spent all offseason talking about how the Panthers could win the NFC North, and I regret every word. They can’t block, have the slowest group of skill guys in the NFL, and I don’t think Frank Reich is the plus value needed to overcome that. That’s good news for the Bears’ 2024 draft prospects.

  • Denver Broncos: Sean Payton got all that Wal-Mart money to at least try to fix Russell Wilson. But if Russ is beyond repair, don’t be surprised if Payton goes to Jarrett Stidham earlier than expected. He has the cache to do it.

  • Los Angeles Rams: Matthew Stafford is having trouble connecting with his younger teammates. I get it, Matthew. I don’t know what the hell TikTok is, either.

  • Indianapolis Colts: Just pay JT, Jim.

  • Tampa Bay Buccaneers: As the last remaining inhabitant of Baker Mayfield Island, it pains me to say that the Bucs are probably going to be downright awful this fall. I’ve already burned the dock, so there’s no way off for me. Might as well just sit here and enjoy what might be a beautiful disaster.

  • Washington Commanders: Dan Snyder has been vanquished, and Sam Howell looks … good? It might really be a new day in D.C., but more evidence is required before elevating them out of this swamp.

  • Houston Texans: I believe in DeMeco Ryans, but he has a long rebuild ahead of him in Houston.

  • Arizona Cardinals: Has anyone asked Caleb Williams if he has fire in his belly? Can Lincoln Riley buy Kliff Kingsbury’s old house if Jonathan Gannon’s dial-tone act doesn’t pan out? Just asking questions.

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