A Look Ahead: 49ers Remaining Schedule
After a few days of panicking, crisis can be averted — at least for the moment, in San Francisco. With a record of 2-2 against one of the tougher slates in the league so far, the 49ers are set to head into a period where they’ll have a relatively soft schedule. While a two-game lead for the Seahawks seems nearly insurmountable, we are just one quarter of the way through the regular season. There are questions still facing a banged-up and slightly under-performing team. But, after a home date with an angry Texans team, Jim Harbaugh and Co. will get a chance to pad their record. Let’s take a look.
Leaving out Sunday night’s showdown with the Texans, from Weeks 6-10 (including a bye week), the Niners have four winnable games. Like most NFC West battles, the Week 6 battle at home against the Cardinals should be no different. Bruce Arians, who is known as an offensive guru, has been winning games with his defense. The offense has been rendered ineffective by a porous offensive line. The Niners are likely to be without Aldon Smith for that game, but shouldn’t struggle to get consistent pressure against a less-than-stellar Arizona offensive line.
The battle to watch will be the 49ers’ offense against the Cardinals’ defense. Last season, the Niners soundly beat the Cards twice: once with Alex Smith, another with Colin Kaepernick. Arizona’s defense under Ray Horton was great in 2012, but it might be a hair better in 2013. They’ve been playing without Daryl Washington, Dan Williams and haven’t missed a beat. Along with Patrick Peterson, they’ve added another playmaker to the secondary: Tyrann Matheiu. While the Niners should be able to get by them, it won’t be a slam-dunk game.
Then, it gets dicey. They’ll go to Nashville in Week 7, which probably looks like a trap game right now. The Titans are 3-1, but haven’t played a truly good team. In the next two weeks, Mike Munchak’s club will host the Chiefs (4-0) and travel to Seattle to play the Seahawks (4-0). They are without their starting quarterback, Jake Locker, so the Titans are likely to be 3-3 heading into that matchup. The following week, the 49ers take on the Jaguars in London. This game could be played in London, Hong Kong, Jacksonville or San Francisco, and it wouldn’t matter. The Jags are one of the worst teams in the league and may push for a 0-16 record. That game will likely be one of the 49ers’ easiest victories of the season.
After a bye week in Week 9, the Niners will be exactly halfway through the season. The second-half slate features a few huge games, and a few potential easy victories. The biggest games on the docket are easily at New Orleans in Week 10 and at home for the Seahawks in Week 14. The Saints and Seahawks are the two best teams in the NFC, in record and for how they look on the field. Both matchups will have a profound effect on the playoff positioning in the NFC.
The second-half schedule also features two Monday Night Football games against a couple of division winners in 2012. The Niners travel to Washington in Week 12 to take on Robert Griffin III and the Redskins. The way Jim Haslett’s defense is struggling right now, Washington has found it difficult to employ their run-first offense. Likewise, RG3 is getting healthier and healthier by the week. With the NFC East playing like the worst division in football, it’s not unreasonable to think the Redskins will actually improve enough for that game to have real meaning. Their second Monday Night affair is the final one of the season, in Week 16.
In what could be the final game ever at Candlestick Park, the 49ers will host the Falcons. Atlanta (1-3) has been hit with injuries on their defense, and have been inconsistent on offense due to a poor offensive line. They may turn it around, or it may be one of those seasons where nothing goes right. We’ll know more about the Falcons in a few weeks when Steven Jackson returns.
The other four games in the second half of the 2013 season are vs. Carolina, vs. St. Louis, at Tampa Bay and at Arizona. Week 9, against Carolina, is an interesting matchup because we just don’t know enough about them right now. They gave Seattle a game in Week 1, only to see DeAngelo Williams fumble the ball with a chance to win. A fourth-quarter meltdown in Buffalo — and a beatdown of the seemingly hapless Giants — make them a tough team to read. By Week 9 we’ll know more. Because the game is in San Francisco, the 49ers have to be tipped to carry the day. Meanwhile Tampa Bay is in a free fall. Their head coach is alienating himself from the entire team and front office. By Week 15, Greg Schiano may not be coaching the Buccaneers. Either way, Tampa is likely to be playing for draft position. That should be a welcomed victory in the home stretch.
While we’re just a quarter of the way through the season and things change in a matter of weeks in the NFL, it’s important to point out the record of the 49ers’ final 12 opponents is 21-26. That number becomes 13-26 when you take out Seattle and New Orleans’ perfect records.
While games with Houston, Seattle, New Orleans and Atlanta will prove to be tough, the Niners’ once-tough schedule may prove to be easier. Going forward, they’ll still need that laser-like focus to get through the next few weeks with a banged-up roster. It may be cliché to say, but this team will only get better as the season goes on.