What quarterback stands between the 49ers and their elusive sixth Lombardi Trophy?
What an opposite quarterback, that is.
Trey Lance, the expected successor to Jimmy Garoppolo, will start a new rivalry with his colleagues this coming season. He will be an underdog or a rookie almost every week.
Once he makes the playoffs next January or beyond, that’s where the nemesis comes in, a la Brady vs. Manning. Or, in the language of the 49ers, “Young vs. Aikman” and “Montana vs. Simms.”
This season’s schedule offers a mix of proven superstars, average QBs and second chance journeymen. Here’s who represents the toughest matchup in each category, not necessarily for Lance, but for the 49ers defense:
SUPER Bowl WINNERS
Category criteria: those who have won the Lombardi Trophy – or seven – and are legitimate threats to add one more.
Tom Brady (bucks week 14)
San Mateo’s native son came out of a short retirement to play at the age of 45. His 23rd NFL season will be in the penultimate game on December 11 at Levy Stadium. Now is not the time for sentimentality. Brady, by the way, won 80 percent of his December starts.
Russell Wilson (“Broncos” Week 3)
Nothing beats their old rival NFC West in humble things. The 49ers should be 2-0 (in Chicago vs. Seattle) before visiting Wilson’s new team in Denver for Sunday Night Football on September 25th. Wilson was 17-4 with Seattle against the 49ers, including an NFC championship game after the 2013 season en route to his only Super Bowl win.
Patrick Mahomes (Chiefs Week 7)
Mahomes and Lance won championships in the 2019 season – Mahomes against the 49ers in Super Bowl XLIV and Lance a month earlier against James Madison in the NCAA football division title game. If the 49ers lead this game and Mahomes clashes with 3rd and 15th, he won’t be able to target Tyreke Hill (traded to Miami).
Matthew Stafford (Frames, weeks 4/8)
He and the Super Bowl champion Rams thrashed the 49ers in the NFC Championship Game, but only after a fourth-quarter comeback was saved by a botched interception by Jakiska Tartt. Stafford had two interceptions in both regular season losses to the 49ers.
MIRACLES WITHOUT VICTORY
Category criteria: respected quarterbacks who have yet to win a playoff.
Derek Carr (Raiders Week 17)
The 49ers’ first visit to Vegas is in the penultimate week of the season, so a non-conference game may not affect playoff races. Carr choked out the 49ers as a 2014 rookie, then got choked out on Thursday night in 2018 by Nick Mullens and now has college teammate and star Davante Adams.
Justin Herbert (Chargers Week 10)
The 49ers will be heading out for a farewell while Herbert and the ever-hyped Chargers will head off cross-country in Atlanta. Herbert won the Pac-12 Conference Championship at Levy Stadium as a senior from Oregon in 2019. His return will be the undercard of the Boz Brothers storyline in this game.
Carson Wentz (Commanders Week 16)
He is 3-0 against the trained Shanahan 49ers, now he will try to beat them for the third consecutive season for as many different franchises (Eagles, Colts, Commanders). Yes, Wentz won the Super Bowl, but he was on the back with injuries in the 2017 playoffs.
Category Criteria: Double-threat quarterbacks whose ability to stay out of trouble can prove difficult to dismiss, as it has been problematic to defend past 49ers.
Kyler Murray (Cardinals, weeks 11/18)
A professional bowler in two of his three seasons, he is 2-3 against the 49ers. He is battling for a new contract after missing out on a voluntary off-season program. His Cardinals will host the 49ers in Mexico City on Nov. 21, followed by a rematch in Week 18 at Levi’s.
Justin Fields (Bears Week 1)
The 49ers passed him in the draft and then beat him on October 30 with Garoppolo’s two touchdowns. This season’s newcomer to Soldier Field has more dynamic fields to offer under new coach Matt Eberflux.
Tua Tagovailoa (Dolphins Week 13)
New coach Mike McDaniel, Kyle Shanahan’s former head assistant, should know by this December 5 visit how to maximize (or minimize) Tagovailoa, who looks more explosive since his 2019 hip injury. In two seasons, he only had 237 yards and 20 sacks each season (23 games). He will need to move more against the 49ers front.
SECOND CHANCE CLUB
Category Criteria: Journeymen who may or may not start as soon as 49ers are on their schedule.
Marcus Mariota (Falcons Week 6)
Will the Falcons switch to rookie Desmond Ridder when they host the 49ers after visiting Brady and the Bucks?
Sam Darnold (Panthers Week 5)
Will the 2021 New York Jets make it to week one or will the Panthers trade for Jimmy Garoppolo?
Jamis Winston (Saints Week 12)
An ACL tear hampered his 5-2 start last season as heir apparent Drew Brees. Saints backups: Andy Dalton and Jan Book.
Geno Smith (Seahawks, weeks 2/15)
Smith is the favorite after two years in Seattle behind Wilson, but ex-Broncos starter Drew Locke will be in contention for the job, and Garoppolo could thrive if released this summer.