There are pros and cons to enjoying a phenomenal season like the one that the 49ers had. The downside? The schedule for the following year gets immeasurably more difficult based on opponents’ win-loss records from the previous year. The upside? The team is usually awarded a handful of primetime games, because people want to watch competitive football.
The 49ers are one of eight teams – along with the Broncos, Steelers, Chargers, Bears, Packers, Giants and Eagles – that earned the league maximum five primetime games in 2012. If you are a 49ers fan of new, this is something special. You probably aren’t used to your team getting all this face time. Older 49ers fans remember when, like clockwork, three Monday Night Football games featured the red and gold every season. It’s good to be back.
The 49ers 2012 schedule:
Week 1: San Francisco 49ers at Green Bay Packers (September 9th, 1:15 pm PST, FOX)
What more can you say? The 49ers and the Green Bay Packers have a long-standing rivalry, going way back to the 1998 NFC Wild Card showdown at Candlestick Park commonly referred to as “The Catch II.” This game will garner a lot of attention, from the Alex Smith-Aaron Rodgers conversation that never seems to end to the “unstoppable vs. immovable” cliché that the NFL loves to milk. This should be a fun one.
Week 2: Detroit Lions at San Francisco 49ers* (Sunday, September 16th, 5:20 PM PST, NBC)
Not much of a drop off here, as we have a rematch of the infamous Handshake Game. The Lions will be hungry for revenge, Jim Schwartz will look as smarmy as ever trolling the sidelines, and 49ers fans will have a chance to show the Lions that Ford Field isn’t the only stadium that gets loud. Primetime will make the atmosphere that much more explosive.
Week 3: San Francisco 49ers at Minnesota Vikings (Sunday, September 23rd, 10 AM PST, FOX)
Second year quarterback Christian Ponder will have his work cut out for him trying to stifle the 49ers’ complete returning defensive lineup. This will be the start of a two-week road trip to the eastern reaches of the United States for the 49ers. Will a detour to Youngstown, Ohio be in the 49ers’ 2012 plans?
Week 4: San Francisco 49ers at New York Jets (Sunday, September 30th, 10 AM PST, FOX)
Any time a New York team is in the mix, the game is certain to garner some attention. The New York Jets, already ESPN’s baby thanks to the never-ending antics of Rex Ryan and the addition of Tim Tebow, will be ready to welcome the 49ers to the Meadowlands. At Week Four, Jets fans should already be calling for Tebow, so get ready for a weekend soap opera.
Week 5: Buffalo Bills at San Francisco 49ers (Sunday, October 7th, 1:15 PM PST, CBS)
One of the more ho-hum match-ups on the 49ers schedule. It will be interesting to see how the 49ers’ defense does trying to thwart Fred Jackson and Ryan Fitzpatrick, while on the other end, San Francisco’s offensive line will have their work cut out for them with Mario Williams trying to eat Alex Smith alive.
Week 6: New York Giants at San Francisco 49ers (Sunday, October 14th, 1:15 PM PST, FOX)
Mark this one on your calendars. The 2011 Super Bowl Champion New York Giants will make their return to Candlestick Park to take on the 49ers, a team that will certainly show up hungry for revenge. I don’t have to do much to sell this game, but I’m sure Joe Buck will do his best to keep his emotions at bay.
Week 7: Seattle Seahawks at San Francisco 49ers** (Thursday, October 18th, 5:20 PM PST, NFLN)
The Seattle Seahawks and their shiny new quarterback, Matt Flynn, will march into town for this Thursday Night game, bringing along all of the bitterness that this divisional rivalry is used to seeing (and the horrible traffic to go along with the 5:20 start time). Marshawn Lynch will be hungry to chunk up the 49ers run defense again, a squad that will be equally ready to make him pay for breaking their 100-yard rusher and rushing touchdown streaks last year. If that’s not enough for you, there’s always the Pete Carroll-Jim Harbaugh love affair.
Week 8: San Francisco 49ers at Arizona Cardinals*** (Monday, October 29th, 5:30 PM PST, ESPN)
Not much turnaround before the 49ers are at it again in primetime, although the 49ers get a little rest before heading down to the desert to face off with Kevin Kolb, Larry Fitzgerald and the rest of the Arizona Cardinals on MNF. If Kevin Kolb stays healthy and lives up to his contract, this should be an exciting game to watch. If it’s John Skelton at the helm yet again, ESPN will probably kick themselves for scheduling this one.
Week 9: Bye
Week 10: St Louis Rams at San Francisco 49ers (Sunday, November 11th, 1:15 PM PST, FOX)
The Rams invade Candlestick Park in Week 10. Here’s another game that, at first glance, has all the anticipatory excitement of a bi-annual teeth cleaning. However, the Rams accrued an ungodly amount of draft picks for the rights to RGIII. If Sam Bradford regains his 2010 form, this rivalry could be reborn.
Week 11: Chicago Bears at San Francisco 49ers*** (Monday, November 19th, 5:30 PM PST, ESPN)
We all remember the last time the Bears played the 49ers in San Francisco, don’t we? It was a Thursday night in 2009, and Jay Cutler was handing out picks like turkeys on Thanksgiving. The Bears’ passing attack is bolstered with the addition of Brandon Marshall, but the 49ers’ defense is leaps and bounds better than it was in 2010. Chicago fans always show up in force when their team is in town, so it should be an electric atmosphere for this one.
Week 12: San Francisco 49ers at New Orleans Saints (Sunday, November 25th, 1:15 PM PST, FOX)
Here’s another game that takes very little effort to sell. I’m surprised this isn’t in primetime given the recent history between these two teams, but perhaps this is further punishment from Goodell for a team they’d like to keep out of the spotlight for a while. This game is a playoff rematch between two teams who undoubtedly hate each other in a building that always seems to rock the Richter scale. You should be excited (and probably a little nervous) about this one.
Week 13: San Francisco 49ers at St Louis Rams (Sunday, December 2nd, 10 AM PST, FOX)
The 49ers travel back to St. Louis to face the Rams for the final time of the season. The Rams almost played spoiler to the 49ers’ playoff home field advantage last season – will it happen again in 2012?
Week 14: Miami Dolphins at San Francisco 49ers (Sunday, December 9th, 1:15 PM PST, CBS)
The Dolphins may keep striking out when it comes to landing names like Manning or Harbaugh, but don’t count them out on the field. They played with a lot of heart last season and did some pretty surprising things after starting 0-7. Although I don’t expect them to compete with the rest of the AFC East, I do expect them to put up a fight when they travel out west to face the Niners.
Week 15: San Francisco 49ers at New England Patriots* (Sunday, December 16th, 5:20 PM PST, NBC)
Here’s a look at what many believe should’ve been the 2011 Super Bowl. Any time the Patriots and Tom Brady are involved (kind of like the Jets), the NFL will milk it until there’s no teet left. Still, the match-up’s intriguing. The 49ers defense vs. the Patriots offense, in the elements in Foxboro on a Sunday Night? Count me in.
Week 16: San Francisco 49ers at Seattle Seahawks (Sunday, December 23rd, 1:15 PM PST, FOX)
The NFL loves to stick the 49ers up in the Pacific Northwest late in the season, and yet again they scheduled a pre-Christmas battle on Qwest Field for San Francisco. If the Seahawks find a way to be competitive in 2012, this game could be monstrous. If not, the 49ers may find themselves playing for playoff positioning again.
Week 17: Arizona Cardinals at San Francisco 49ers (Sunday, December 30th, 1:15 PM PST, FOX)
Same thing going on here. The NFL likes to backload team’s schedules with divisional games, hoping that playoff battles will create intrigue and drama. Had the Cardinals found a way to land Peyton Manning, this could’ve been one of the top games of the season. It’s hard to see it panning out that way now, but you never know.
*Sunday Night Football (NBC)
**Thursday Night Football (NFLN)
***Monday Night Football (ESPN)
I’m not surprised that the 49ers got the maximum allotted primetime games, although I am surprised they got three at home given the power outage train wreck of last year. I was there, and though everyone was calm and civil, it was still a pretty alarming experience. The fact that the NFL allowed three primetime games in San Francisco says two things to me: 1.) They have faith that PG&E in San Francisco won’t let it happen again, and 2.) they’re impressed with the way Candlestick dresses up and the way the fans show up on primetime. Given the way the Stick rocked for the Steelers, Saints and Giants games, I have no doubt that the faithful are back in full force, ready to represent on national television.
The most surprising advantage the 49ers will enjoy in 2012 is their away schedule: San Francisco will only play three 10 am starts in 2012, a far cry from the five they faced in 2011. They’ll play six games in the eastern time zone this year, but as I mentioned earlier, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a layover between Weeks 3 and 4. The game in Foxboro is on Sunday Night, meaning no early start for the 49ers over the last four weeks.
If you’re a 49ers fan staring down this schedule, you shouldn’t expect another 13-3 season. But fret not, fellow faithful – regardless of the outcome, the 2012 season (lockout free, mind you) should be a wild ride. Besides, who expected the 49ers to win even 10 games during Harbaugh’s first season?