The San Francisco 49ers are a team that is likely to have a target on its back all year. The Niners are the defending NFC Champions, and they had the lead in the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl before falling to the Kansas City Chiefs. Head coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch view the team as having unfinished business. This team is bound and determined to win the Super Bowl this season.

The 49ers are clear favorites in the NFC West once again. If the team cruises to the division title, that means its toughest and most important games will come in the postseason. However, the NFL does not pay off after what happened last year or on preseason expectations.

The 49ers have a loaded offensive team and also a hard hitting and opportunistic defense, so that means that they will be favored in most games this season. They know that the combination of quarterback Brock Purdy, running back Christian McCaffrey and a receiving crew that includes Deebo Samuel, Brandon Aiyuk, tight end George Kittle and rookie Ricky Pearsall is going to light up the scoreboard in most games.

Still, overconfidence can become an issue for any team that has found consistent success. That's where Shanahan is going to have to stay vigilant with this team.

49ers should be able to get off to winning start before they get tested

San Francisco opens the season with a home Monday night game against Aaron Rodgers and the New York Jets. Rodgers missed all but one series last year after being acquired by New York, and the Jets are hoping that their 40-year-old quarterback can stay healthy this year and lead the team to the playoffs. While starting the season with an upset of the Niners would be ecstatic for Jets fans and head coach Robert Saleh, a close and competitive loss is probably the best they could hope for in this game.

The Niners go on the road the following week against the rebuilding Minnesota Vikings. Minnesota lost quarterback Kirk Cousins and game-changing pass rusher Danielle Hunter in the offseason to free agency. While they believe they have drafted their quarterback of the future in J.J. McCarthy and made a number of key defensive pickups to make up for the loss of Turner, it seems unlikely this team will challenge the Niners. This should be an easy win for the visitors.

A road game against the Rams in Week 3 could be a challenge, but back-to-back home games against New England and Arizona follow. Those should be easy wins. As a result the Niners should be 4-1 or 5-0 after their first five games.

Major challenge for 49ers begins in Week 6

The season will grow increasingly more difficult when the Niners go on the road to Lumen Field in Seattle to take on the Seahawks. Pete Carroll's team is likely to represent the 49ers' biggest challenge in the NFC West, and that Week 6 Thursday night game will not be easy.

The 49ers certainly know how to play in front of a hostile crowd, but the Seahawks will do everything they can to slow down their archrivals.

San Francisco will host the Chiefs the following week and there is little doubt that Shanahan will have that game circled. The Niners have lost two Super Bowls to the Chiefs in the last five seasons, and any payback Shanahan can give Andy Reid and his troops will be delivered with enthusiasm.

There will be little celebration or regret once that game is over. That's because the Dallas Cowboys come to Levi's Stadium the following week. The Cowboys know that they have to show they can beat elite teams on the road, so they will be focused on playing their best game against the Niners.

The Niners have their bye week after facing Dak Prescott and the Cowboys, and that will give the team an excellent chance to retool.

Another potential pitfall for 49ers late in the season

If the Niners survive that early-season gauntlet, they will be challenged by another late in the season with a trio of games against likely playoff teams.

The Niners will host the Rams in Week 15, and then go on the road to South Florida in late December. Humidity in Miami late in the season has been problematic for many visitors over the years, and beating the Dolphins on their homefield will clearly be a major undertaking.

Once that game is over, the Niners will come home to play the Detroit Lions in the penultimate game of the season. Many expect the Lions to continue to rise in the NFC and they could be the biggest challenge to the Niners for conference superiority this season.

All three of those games could turn out to be problematic for the defending NFC champions.