Analyzing the 2013 San Francisco 49ers schedule

Oh-so-close in February, the 49ers will know a lot about their chances for a repeat Super Bowl visit right off the bat, with four of their first five games against playoff teams from last year.

Even their first two games could say a lot. The season starts off with a rematch of last season's divisional playoff game against the Packers at Candlestick, when San Francisco literally ran all over Green Bay en route to a 45-31 win. Then comes a showdown with the NFC West challenger Seahawks in Seattle on Sunday Night Football. Last season, the Seahawks handed the 49ers a 42-13 stomping on Sunday Night in their visit.

San Francisco returns home to host the Colts in year two of the Andrew Luck era, but then goes to St. Louis for a tough divisional game against an up-and-coming Rams team on Thursday night - amazingly their easiest game of a brutal five week stretch to open the season, which concludes with the Houston Texans visiting in week five in another Sunday Night game.

It's conceivable for the Niners to lose three, maybe even four of these games. To walk away from this stretch even 4-1 would be impressive, 5-0 a major statement by San Francisco. It is difficult to imagine them winning their two toughest divisional road games, especially just two weeks apart. And taking all three home games from teams with a combined 34-14 record last year would also be quite the coup. Most likely, they will start the season 3-2.

But then the schedule softens, and softens considerably. The next five opponents - Arizona, Tennessee, Jacksonville, Carolina and New Orleans - had a combined record of 27-53 last season, and there's a bye week in there between the Jaguars and the Panthers. Five wins in five games is not at all out of the question, but 4-1 is probably a more realistic bet, with the Titans and Saints games coming in tough road environments.

That puts the 49ers with seven wins 10 games into the season, exactly how many they had last year. And the end of the season sets up nicely for them to ramp up for the playoffs without getting run down. It's not a repeat of the brutal few weeks to start the season, but it's certainly tougher than the soft middle.

Week 12 (game 11) is a visit to Washington on Monday Night. The Redskins were 10-6 last year, but that was in the generally-terrible NFC East. But they have Robert Griffin III, who is capable of beating pretty much any team singlehandedly. But the Niners will have already seen Russell Wilson in Seattle, who is very similar to RG III, and will have a decent idea of how to deal with him (unlike the rest of the NFC East). It's hard to imagine the Niners losing to a team that is inferior at so many positions, but an east coast road trip - and Monday Night - can always be problematic.

Next comes back-to-back divisional home games against the Rams and the Seahawks. As before with the road games, it would be impressive for the Niners to win both against their two toughest divisional threats. But at home, it is much easier. Chances are, the Niners slip up in one of these three games to put them at 9-4 with three games to go.

Week 15 sees the Niners visit lowly Tampa Bay, and week 17 a visit to lowly Arizona. Both of those should be fairly easy wins. The key game comes in week 16, a rematch of last seasons NFC Championship game against the Atlanta Falcons. Except this time, it's on Monday Night, and it's at Candlestick - the very last regular season game that will ever be played there. Home field advantage in the NFC or a first-round bye could be on the line. The Falcons will be thirsting for revenge, but San Francisco will rise to the occasion, as they have done so well the last couple of years, and finish the season 12-4, earning in all likelihood a first-round bye and the two-seed in the NFC, just like last year.

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