Schedule Makers Did 49ers No Favors
By Peter Fournier
Who has it better than the San Francisco 49ers to start the 2012 NFL regular season?
Just about every single other team out there.
San Francisco gets four playoffs teams in the first five weeks, including a rematch of last year’s NFC Divisional playoff game, when it hosts the Green Bay Packers in Week 1. In the following weeks, the 49ers travel to Seattle for a Sunday Night Football matchup, they host the Indianapolis Colts, they travel to St. Louis for Thursday Night Football, then finish the five-week stint at home against Houston in another Sunday Night Football appearance.
The 49ers should be happy with a 3-2 record out the gate. Winning in Seattle may be downright impossible, the Rams seemed to have San Francisco’s number last year and Packers will be gunning for revenge.
Between the 49ers' Week 6 home game against the Cardinals (Oct. 13), and a home joust (Dec. 1) with the Rams, they’ll be at Candlestick just once: a showdown with Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers (Nov. 10). After the Arizona home game, they’ll travel to play the Titans, then to London for a face-off with the Jacksonville Jaguars.
San Francisco should win four of those games, with the Rams being the toughest opponent there.
After the Panthers' game, it’s back-to-back road games across the country, with a return trip to New Orleans to play the Saints and a Monday night showdown with the Washington Redskins the following week.
And no, the road doesn’t get easier after that. The 49ers' final five games feature visits from the Seahawks, Rams and Falcons, on top of trips to Tampa Bay and Arizona. This could be the season where San Francisco “cuts its teeth.”
The 49ers could realistically go 9-7, although it’s likely they win at least 10 games. Will 10 games win the NFC West?
The Seahawks have proven they are the chief challenger to San Francisco’s two-time defending crown, the Rams have a good coach in Jeff Fisher — who hasn’t lost to Jim Harbaugh yet — and the Cardinals now have a solid quarterback in Carson Palmer.
Don't rule out a nine-win season — and, honestly, that's not a bad thing. Each of the past three Super Bowl champions had 10 or fewer regular-season wins, and each needed to fight to reach the postseason. In 2011, the Giants finished 9-7 and needed to beat the Cowboys in Week 17 to win the NFC East. They went on to win the Super Bowl that year.
Maybe that’s what San Francisco needs. The 49ers have earned first-round byes the past two seasons pretty comfortably. This could be the year they don’t do that.
Then again, there’s more to the NFL than just who you play every week. Perhaps it’s an injury, or a missed call or a turnover that doesn’t get the 49ers into the double-digit victory mark for the first time in two years.