The San Francisco 49ers have been about as good as any NFL team over the past three years, making three Conference Championship appearances and one trip to the Super Bowl. On Sunday, the team begins its quest to get over the hump and win its first title in 20 years when the 49ers visit the Dallas Cowboys in Week One of the 2014 NFL season.
San Francisco isn’t expected to take a step back in the upcoming season, as they remain one of the favorites to win the 2015 Super Bowl. Last year, they fell to the Seattle Seahawks in the NFC Championship Game after going 12-4 in the regular season.
Expectations aren’t nearly as high for the Cowboys, who are the betting favorites to finish last in the NFC East. The franchise hasn’t had a winning season in five years, winning exactly eight games in three straight seasons.
Dallas will open the season at AT&T Stadium, but it’d be an upset if they were able to pick up the victory. The Cowboys are one of three home underdogs in Week One, as the betting odds favor a win for the 49ers in the opener. The point spread has San Francisco listed as a 4.5-point favorite.
Playing on the road shouldn’t hurt the 49ers, who were tied for the NFL lead in 2014 with six road victories. Dallas went 5-3 at home.
Only three of the 16 games in Week One have a higher over/under than the 51 points set for the 49ers vs. Cowboys. In 2013, Dallas had the fifth-highest scoring team in the league, averaging 27.4 points per game, as Tony Romo completed 31 touchdown passes. Colin Kaepernick was very hit-or-miss last year, but Sunday might be set up perfectly for him to have one of his impressive performances. The Cowboys allowed more yards than any team in 2013, and they lost several key defenders in free agency, like DeMarcus Ware and Jason Hatcher.
Romo participated in the preseason, but Sunday will be his first meaningful game, since undergoing back surgery. The quarterback had a perfect passer rating in his first exhibition game, and followed that up with a 10-for-18 performance in his second and final contest. While there was some indication that the injury was affecting Romo upon his return, the Cowboys expect the veteran to be at full strength in 2014.
“The last couple weeks we’ve seen Tony really be himself,” Dallas head coach Jason Garrett said at a Monday press conference. “He’s moved around in practice very spontaneously. He’s made a lot of throws. He’s taken hits in games. He’s come back from all that stuff.
“He’s worked very hard to get himself to the point where he’s 100 percent with his back. It’s going to be a work in progress for him, as it would be with anyone coming off an injury.”
The start of the preseason did not go as the 49ers planned, as the team totaled just three points in the first two games. However, they enter the regular season on a high note, scoring 61 total points in the final two exhibition contests. Adding playmakers like Stevie Johnson and Carlos Hyde could give San Francisco its most dynamic offense since Jim Harbaugh took over as the team’s head coach.
The 49ers will be without their star linebacker against the Cowboys and beyond. Aldon Smith has been suspended for nine games for violating the league substance abuse program. In 2013, he missed five games, but still managed to record 8.5 sacks.
Prediction: San Francisco has started off recent seasons well, winning three straight openers, including the last two against the Green Bay Packers. The Cowboys' offense might be able to get something going against a usually stingy 49ers defense, but the Cowboys could have a hard time controlling San Francisco’s running and passing attack.
Predicted Score: San Francisco over Dallas, 30-23