The games do not begin for another three months, but first-year 49ers defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans already has plenty to think about.
He has been contemplating the pivotal matchups against three quarterbacks his squad will see at least six times this season.
The NFC West features four teams with Super Bowl aspirations. The 49ers’ three division opponents believe they have the quarterbacks — Russell Wilson, Matthew Stafford and Kyler Murray — who can take them all the way.
Ryans will face challenges throughout the season to devise plans to limit the effectiveness of teams that are set up to enable their quarterbacks to pile up prolific numbers.
There might be a strain on Wilson’s relationship with the Seattle Seahawks -- a situation that could limit the time he remains with the organization. That is a dynamic that will sort itself out over time.
Wilson is certain to remain with the Seahawks for the upcoming season, and as long as he is on the field, he gives Pete Carroll a strong chance to win a lot of football games.
“Just seeing him over the years, he is a true competitor,” Ryans said of Wilson. “He's going to keep his team in the game. He's able to make plays not only with his arm, but also with his legs.
“(He is) someone we've went against in the past and have a history with. He's gotten us a couple of times. We’ve gotten him. But we kind of know him, but you know it's always going to be close there with Russell because of the competitor that he is.”
Wilson, 32, has started all 144 regular-season games of his career. The Seahawks are 98-45-1 in those games, including 14-4 against the 49ers.
Wilson is the only NFC West quarterback to start on a Super Bowl-winning team. The Seahawks have advanced to the playoffs in eight of Wilson's seasons, compiling a 9-7 record in the postseason.
The Los Angeles Rams believe Stafford can get them to that point, which is why they acquired him this offseason in a blockbuster trade with the Detroit Lions.
“I think it was a really great addition for them and their (front) office and the things that Stafford has been able to do throughout his career,” Ryans said. “He's really been a top quarterback in his league when it comes to the fourth-quarter comebacks, which he's very known for.”
Stafford, 33, engineered 31 fourth-quarter comebacks and 38 game-winning drives in his 12 seasons with the Lions. His teams advanced to the playoffs only three times, though, and Detroit did not win any of those postseason games.
But Ryans said he believes Stafford will be dangerous with an organization that has committed toward winning now.
“He provides leadership to that offense and he's going to be a playmaker for them,” Ryans said. “So he'll present a lot of challenges, whether it's calling it at the line of scrimmage, whether he gets more leeway with that, we'll see. But we'll see how their offense comes along with him, a few unknowns there, but kind of waiting to see.”
While Wilson and Stafford have been long-established in the NFL, the Arizona Cardinals selected Murray with the No. 1 overall pick in 2019 to give the organization its best chance at competing for the Lombardi Trophy.
Murray has started all 32 games of his career. The Cardinals went 8-8 last season. The club appears ready to take another step forward in 2021.
Murray is coming off a season in which he threw for 3,971 yards and 26 touchdowns while rushing for 819 yards and 11 scores.
“Kyler Murray is a fantastic young player, dynamic player who is electric when he's running with the ball, (and he) has a big arm to sling it across the field as well,” Ryans said. “So we know he's definitely a hard out, so to speak. He's a hard out.
“(He is) a guy that we've grown to kind of know. You know the type of competitor that he is. You know the playmakers that they surrounded him with. So I feel like they’ll be better this year.”
The Cardinals this offseason signed veteran wide receiver A.J. Green to go along with DeAndre Hopkins, acquired in a trade from Houston a year ago. Arizona also selected speedy Purdue slot receiver Rondale Moore in the second round to provide more big-play potential for Murray to feature in Kliff Kingsbury’s offense.