The 49ers will be the team under pressure to prevail in Week 1. The expectation is that San Francisco will win, and do so handily, in Chicago against the Bears in a game in which the Niners are favored by seven points.
Such is the gulf in talent between these two teams, that the Niners may well win comfortably regardless of how Trey Lance plays in the first game of his first full season as San Francisco’s starting quarterback.
Yet, given the opposition the 49ers are facing, their season opener could serve as an early referendum on the decision to select Lance after trading three first-round picks to move up to the third overall pick in the 2021 draft.
While the franchise-defining choice apparently came down to Lance and Mac Jones – eventually selected 15th overall by the Patriots — many involved in the pre-draft discussion viewed Justin Fields as the best fit to be the 49ers’ long-term franchise quarterback.
Fields participated in a second pre-draft workout in front of Kyle Shanahan and the 49ers’ brass, while the former Ohio State star’s presence at Shanahan’s QB Collective camp earlier in his career helped fuel social media chatter surrounding a potential reunion in the pros.
It never came to pass, though, as Shanahan and the Niners went with Lance.
Fields gave the 49ers a glimpse of what they missed out on with his spectacular 22-yard scramble for a touchdown on fourth down in San Francisco’s meeting with the Bears last season. The 49ers won that game with Jimmy Garoppolo as the starting quarterback, but Sunday offers the first chance to get a direct on-field comparison between Fields and Lance.
Though Fields has substantially more experience than Lance in both college and the pros — he made 10 starts in 2021 compared to two for Lance – the deck is stacked in the favor of the 49ers’ starter, who will have the benefit of operating in an extremely quarterback friendly offense with a raft of top-tier skill-position talent and will be supported by a defense among the most complete in the NFL.
As such, Lance’s performance might not be the decisive factor in the game but, regardless of the result, if he is outplayed by Fields, it will only serve to raise questions about their momentous draft-day decision.
A performance in which Lance takes advantage of his vastly superior supporting cast to lead the 49ers to a comfortable victory won’t end the questions about his viability as their long-term starter under center, but it would surely make Shanahan and Co. more confident they made the right call.
There is not too much intrigue surrounding a seemingly lopsided matchup, but the duel between the man anointed as the future of the 49ers’ franchise and the man that could have been in his position will be a fascinating one.