Bucs, 49ers open looking to end long playoff droughts

Two teams looking for improved seasons get what would be considered a favorable Week 1 matchup when the San Francisco 49ers visit the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in their NFL opener on Sunday afternoon.

The game will be a rematch of a 27-9 Tampa Bay home win in Week 12 last November, with the Buccaneers having since switched coaches and the 49ers quarterbacks.

Bruce Arians and Devin White will be making their Buccaneers debuts, with the former Arizona Cardinals coach already having named the No. 5 overall pick of the 2019 draft as one of his starting inside linebackers.

Meanwhile, Jimmy Garoppolo returns from a knee injury to regain his starting status as the San Francisco quarterback, replacing Nick Mullens, who was sacked four times and threw two interceptions in the 49ers' trip to Florida last year.

The opener isn't expected to be impacted by Hurricane Dorian, which brought rain to much of Florida's east coast Tuesday and Wednesday. But hot and humid weather is expected to greet the 49ers, whose late-fall visit last Thanksgiving weekend featured Chamber of Commerce conditions.

"It can wear you out," Arians warned Wednesday on a conference call with Northern California media. "We get worn out every day in practice. We had a lot of lightning during training camp, so we went inside and opened all the doors to keep the humidity in there. It wasn't much fun."

The 49ers might not be accustomed to summertime Florida weather, but they are quite familiar with Arians, who coached in the NFC West from 2013-2017. And vice versa, with Arians holding the advantage, winning seven of the 10 head-to-heads, including the last six.

Coming off a 5-11 season and seeking to end an 11-year playoff drought, Arians returns the Buccaneers' same dynamic throw-and-catch combination in Jameis Winston and Mike Evans. They combined for six connections for 116 yards in last year's game.

Winston threw for 312 yards and two touchdowns in the win. It was one of just three games with at least 300 yards and two TD's last season, and the only one in a win.

This time around, Winston figures to have to deal with an improved 49ers defensive front that now features Nick Bosa, the No. 2 overall pick in April, and Dee Ford, an import from Kansas City who had 13 sacks and forced seven fumbles last season, as book-ends.

Both basically were given the preseason off to deal with health issues, Bosa a high ankle sprain that he sustained early in training camp, and Ford a tendinitis issue in his knee that has bothered him in the past.

"I don't think I've ever been as motivated in my life to get back," Bosa told reporters this week. "I've had my sights set on playing my first NFL season. Every waking hour was spent getting my ankle right."

Garoppolo is set once again to direct the San Francisco offense after having blown out his knee in the third game of the 2018 season at Kansas City. The 49ers had split their first two games, dropping their opener at Minnesota before beating Detroit at home.

The 49ers haven't made the playoffs since 2013 during the Jim Harbaugh era. Jon Gruden was the coach the last time the Buccaneers reached the postseason in 2007.

--Field Level Media