Jim Harbaugh had his San Francisco 49ers less than 10 yards from a Super Bowl victory last year. With brilliant offseason moves and another great draft class, the Niners are the frontrunner to repeat as NFC champions. And since scheduling plays a huge role in the outcome of every NFL season, Athlon is analyzing every team's 16-game slate.
San Francisco 49ers 2013 Schedule:
Week 1: Green Bay
Week 2: at Seattle
Week 3: Indianapolis
Week 4: at St. Louis (Thurs.)
Week 5: Houston
Week 6: Arizona
Week 7: at Tennessee
Week 8: at Jacksonville
Week 9: BYE
Week 10: Carolina
Week 11: at New Orleans
Week 12: at Washington (Mon.)
Week 13: St. Louis
Week 14: Seattle
Week 15: at Tampa Bay
Week 16: Atlanta (Mon.)
Week 17: at Arizona
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Out of the Gate: The Niners will have the toughest first two games of the season of any team in the NFL. And the importance of games with Green Bay and Seattle cannot be understated, as both could determine playoff seeding. In addition, the NFC West could easily be on the line at CenturyLink Field just seven days into the season. And things don't get any easier for the 49ers either as they get a visit from Andrew Luck and the Colts in Week 3 and travel to St. Louis in Week 4. Most teams would be staring at an 0-4 start to the year but not San Francisco. It has to be bittersweet that the two toughest games in the division will be out of the way in the first month.
Toughest Stretch: The first five weeks of the season have to be considered the toughest stretch for the defending NFC champs. On top of two huge road divisional games and tests with elite signal-callers Aaron Rodgers and Luck at home comes a visit from the Houston Texans. The final seven weeks of the season won't be easy but the elite level of competition in the first five weeks makes the start to the season the most daunting stretch of the 2013 slate for San Francisco.
Easiest Stretch: As the defending NFC champs, there shouldn't be any truly easy stretches. However, there is a five-week run following the Week 5 tilt against Houston that should provide some easier wins. The 49ers will face the Cardinals, Titans and Jaguars — arguably the three worst teams on their schedule this year — in three consecutive weeks. Then San Fran gets an off weekend before a visit from Carolina in Week 10. Four losing teams from a year ago and the bye week makes Weeks 6-10 the easiest stretch of games for Harbaugh and company.
Circle The Calendar: Week 2 in Seattle will be downright epic. The Link's crowd is always rowdy and both sides know full well what will be at stake in this monstrous NFC West showdown. Last year, the Niners edged past the Seahawks at home 13-6 in mid-October. However, Pete Carroll's boys put a beatdown on Harbaugh's guys 42-13 in Week 16 last year. These two coaches have had a long-standing rivalry dating back to their Pac-10 USC-Stanford days and now they may boast the two best teams in the league. This could be the biggest game of the entire NFL calendar in 2013.
Divisional Notes: This could be the toughest division in football but the Niners are luckier than the other three teams in the NFC West as they don't have to face, well, the 49ers twice. That said, road trips to both Seattle and St. Louis will be nasty in the first month. The home rematches with both will take place in back-to-back weeks to start December. With so much space between these key divisional games, it is likely that all three teams will be dramatically different in the second bouts. Arizona, which is no easy out, will be a welcome sight for San Francisco in Weeks 6 and 17.
Playoff Push: The final month won't be easy for the Niners but there is plenty to like about this end to the season. Road trips to Tampa Bay and Arizona both happen within the final three weeks and three huge NFC showdowns come in Candlestick Park. St. Louis had Harbaugh's number a year ago and will be a tough out while home-field advantage and the NFC West will hang in the balance when Seattle and Atlanta visit during December. The final home game of the year against the Falcons will come on "Monday Night Football" and should be one of the most anticipated games of the year.
Fantasy Playoff Run (Weeks 14-16): Colin Kaepernick could have one of the toughest fantasy playoff schedules of any of his peers. The dual-threat has to face top-seven fantasy defenses against QBs in Seattle and Atlanta, although both of those games are at home, as well as Tampa Bay’s upgraded secondary on the road. The Seahawks (sixth against fantasy RBs) and Buccaneers (No. 1 in rushing defense last season) also weren’t that kind to RBs either.
2013 Athlon Sports NFL team-by-team schedule analysis:
San Diego (7/2)
Tampa Bay (7/2)
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