49ers 2007 season: Game-by-game rundown

The 2007 season finally arrives tonight for the 49ers when they host the Arizona Cardinals, and here SFI takes you on a week-by-week run through San Francisco's 16-game schedule while looking at what the 49ers will be facing every step along the way.

Game 1: Tonight vs. Arizona
Nothing like jumping right into the season with the most important game of the year. The 49ers will be on national television, against a division rival that beat them twice last year, and they'll be honoring the memory of Bill Walsh during the game. San Francisco needs to get off to a good start here, especially with its next two games on the road, and will be looking to end a four-game losing streak against the Cardinals in a virtually must-win game.

Game 2: Sept. 16 at St. Louis
The Rams have some expectations this season, too, so this is another pivotal early-season divisional match-up, which becomes even more crucial for St. Louis after the Rams lost their home opener Sunday to Carolina. The last time these two teams met, the Niners were on the verge of a season sweep of St. Louis on the Rams' home turf when Mike Nolan's decision to kick a field goal on fourth-and-inches deep in St. Louis territory ultimately left the Rams an opportunity to drive for a game-winning touchdown in the final minutes.

Game 3: Sept. 23 at Pittsburgh
The 49ers will measure themselves here in the first of four games this season against teams from the rugged AFC North. The Steelers won the Super Bowl just two seasons ago, but Pittsburgh now is a team in transition under first-year coach Mike Tomlin - just the third head coach the Steelers have had since the 1970 NFL/AFL merger. Pittsburgh missed the playoffs with an 8-8 record last year, but is still a dangerous team and formidable opponent after finishing in the league's top 10 in both total offense and total defense.

Game 4: Sept. 30 vs. Seattle
By the time the clock strikes midnight on the final day of September, the 49ers will have a pretty good idea where they stand in the NFC West after reaching the season's quarter pole having played three of their first four games against divisional rivals. The Niners swept the Seahawks last year, and it will be paramount to draw first blood here at home if San Francisco has legitimate aspirations to end Seattle's reign as three-time division champion.

Game 5: Oct. 7 vs. Baltimore
Mike Nolan finally faces his former team and the defense that he helped build into one of the NFL's best. Nolan was Baltimore's defensive coordinator from 2002-2004 before taking his current job, and in his third season with the Niners he finally has the personnel to run the kind of 3-4 defense that he was able to install in Baltimore. Nolan has plucked two of his defensive starters and his assistant head coach - Mike Singletary - from the Ravens since coming to San Francisco, and here he'll be matching coaching wits against his former boss, Brian Billick.

Game 6: Oct. 21 at New York Giants
Coming off their bye week, the 49ers take the transcontinental trek to the Big Apple where they face a 2006 playoff team they've beaten six times in the last seven meetings. This will be another test to see if the Niners are playoff ready, and it also will be an opportunity for quarterback Alex Smith, the No. 1 overall selection in the 2005 draft, to match his mettle against Eli Manning, the No. 1 overall selection of the 2004 draft.

Game 7: Oct. 28 vs. New Orleans
A trendy pick as a NFC favorite this season, the Saints hammered the 49ers 34-10 last year on their way to a stunning turnaround that landed New Orleans in the NFC Championship game a year after it finished 3-13. This time, San Francisco gets the Saints at home in a game that could have playoff implications. The key for San Francisco is to get a better handle on Reggie Bush, who thrashed the Niners for 167 total yards and four touchdowns in last year's game. The Saints, however, hardly were impressive in their season-opening blowout loss to defending Super Bowl champion Indianapolis.

Game 8: Nov. 4 at Atlanta
There has been a shakeup in Atlanta after former 49ers defensive coordinator Jim Mora's tumultuous three years as head coach ended after last season, and team owner Arthur Blank almost hired Mike Singletary to replace Mora before going with the offensive-minded Bobby Petrino instead. The 49ers used to play once every season in Atlanta since 1966, but this will be San Francisco's first trip to the Georgia Dome since the Falcons left the NFC West in 2002 as part of the NFL's realignment. In the wake of the Michael Vick fiasco, Joey Herrington is Atlanta's new quarterback, and that's not exactly what you call an upgrade.

Game 9: Nov. 12 at Seattle
This is another defining 2007 moment for the 49ers as they go back on Monday Night Football for their season rematch with the three-time defending division champions. San Francisco produced a stirring 24-14 upset at rain-drenched Seattle last year, and this is an opportunity to show the nation the 49ers have arrived as a contender. Expect to see heavy doses of Frank Gore, who rushed for 356 yards in two games against the Seahawks last year.

Game 10: Nov. 18 vs. St. Louis
The 49ers break up a stretch of four road trips in five weeks with their rematch with the Rams at Monster Park, where St. Louis has won only once in the past five seasons. The battle within the battle features San Francisco's Frank Gore and St. Louis' Steven Jackson, who finished first and third, respectively, in NFC rushing last season, while Jackson led the NFL in total yards from scrimmage with Gore fourth in that category.

Game 11: Nov. 25 at Arizona
The 49ers have left the desert with victory just once since Arizona joined the NFC West in 2002, and a big reason for the Cardinals' recent rule has been the play of big receivers Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin. That duo has put up big numbers against the 49ers the past two years, but now San Francisco has better talent in the secondary to match up with them after the addition of free agents Nate Clements at cornerback at Michael Lewis at safety.

Game 12: Dec. 2 at Carolina
The 49ers conclude their stretch of four road games in five weeks with their first visit to Charlotte since the Panthers left the NFC West after the 2001 season. This figures to be one of the tougher games on San Francisco's schedule as the Panthers, who finished seventh in the NFL in total defense last year, are looking to bounce back from a disappointing 2006 season that followed their trip to the NFC Championship game the season before.

Game 13: Dec. 9 vs. Minnesota
Back home for the first of three consecutive games at Monster Park, the 49ers begin the stretch drive against an opponent they shut down in San Francisco last season during a 9-3 victory that began a three-game winning streak. The Vikings have big questions on offense, particularly at quarterback, and that won't make it easy at a venue where they haven't won since their shocking playoff upset of the top-seeded Niners in 1987.

Game 14: Dec. 15 vs. Cincinnati
Carson Palmer and Co. bring one of the NFL's most prolific passing attacks to San Francisco in a game that figures to keep the scoreboard busy, considering the Bengals also ranked 30th in the NFL last season in total defense. This promises to be one of the league's best inter-conference games of December as both teams figure to be in the throes of making a playoff push. This Saturday night game will have some light on it, too, as it will be televised nationally by the NFL Network.

Game 15: Dec. 23 vs. Tampa Bay
The 49ers will be in prime time for the fourth time this season in this nationally-televised Sunday night game. The Buccaneers slumped to a 4-12 finish last year after winning the NFC South title the season before, but now Tampa Bay has former 49er Jeff Garcia at quarterback, which ought to stir some competitive juices. Garcia reached the Pro Bowl three consecutive seasons with the 49ers from 2000-2002, and the team is just now recovering from his departure with the gradual emergence of Alex Smith.

Game 16: Dec. 30 at Cleveland
The 49ers reach the end of the road with what figures to be a frigid Sunday on the banks of Lake Erie, but they hope to have some playoff dreams alive to keep them warm. The Browns were one of the NFL's worst teams last year, finishing 31st in the league in offense and 27th in defense, and they clearly are still rebuilding under coach Romeo Crennel. This might be a good spot for the 49ers to be in their season finale if they're just one victory away from clinching their first trip to the playoffs in five years, and after getting blown out at home by Pittsburgh in their opener, the Browns don't figure to be a team with anything to play for by the time this season-ender rolls around.

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