The NFL released its schedule Wednesday allowing us all to get a head start on projections and previews for the 2014 season. For the San Francisco 49ers three things jump out. First, after traveling to London and playing all three of their playoff games on the road, San Francisco will welcome having just one trip to the East coast on the regular season docket. Second, from Week 6 to Week 11 four of five games will be on the road sandwiching a bye in Week 8. There's a chance the team could spend its week practicing in Youngstown, Ohio again in preparation for Week 11's game on the road against the Giants after playing in New Orleans the week before. But that is still yet to be determined.
The final bullet point of the 2014 schedule involves the Seattle Seahawks, of course. They play twice in a three-week span including the final game of the NFL's triple header on Thanksgiving at Levi's Stadium. It will be the first time the 49ers have ever hosted a game on Thanksgiving. The last time they played on the holiday was in 2011 when they lost to the Ravens on the road 16-6. San Francisco will travel to Seattle for Week 15 before finishing the stretch run with two home games against the Chargers and Cardinals.
The over/under for wins will fall around 11 depending on your favorite sports "entertainment" handicapper. At first glance that seems like a good number for this 49ers team that's averaged 12 wins over Jim Harbaugh's three seasons as head coach. Of course, many expected teams like the Atlanta Falcons and Houston Texans to be Super Bowl contenders in 2013 and they wound up finishing a combined 6-26.
Let's take a look at the schedule week by week:
Week 1 (9/7): @ Dallas Cowboys 1:25 p.m. FOX
The Cowboys finished 8-8 for the third-straight season in 2013, likely making the upcoming year a make-or-break campaign for head coach Jason Garrett. The 49ers will open the season on the road in Dallas and play at AT&T Stadium for the first time ever in the regular season. The last time these two teams played the Cowboys came away with an 27-24 overtime win in San Francisco in Harbaugh's second regular season game as coach in 2011. The rivalry isn't what it was back in the 90s to be sure, but there will be plenty on the line for two of the NFC's most iconic franchises as the Cowboys will look to return to the postseason for the first time since 2009.
Week 2 (9/14): vs. Chicago Bears 5:30 p.m. NBC
As expected, the 49ers will open Levi's Stadium in Week 2 during prime time. They weren't slated to have any night games during the week because of parking and traffic concerns in the stadium's first year - with the obvious exception of Thanksgiving - so they'll open on Sunday night instead of playing on Monday Night Football. The Bears will come to town after getting eliminated by the Green Bay Packers in Week 17 for the division crown. Chicago is hoping Jay Cutler can stay healthy and prove worthy of his seven-year $126.7 million contract he signed in January. Cutler wasn't available the last time the Bears came to San Francisco losing 32-7 with Jason Campbell under center in 2012. The 49ers have won their last eight games against daa Bears.
Week 3 (9/21): @ Arizona Cardinals 1:05: p.m. FOX
The Cardinals won 10 games in 2013 but still found themselves outside of the playoff picture. They are becoming a trendy pick in the early going of 2014 and will have the opportunity to make a statement against the 49ers, in what's becoming a nice rivalry between the two teams. San Francisco swept the season series against Arizona a year ago, but both games were very competitive including Week 17's game the 49ers edged out 23-30 for their 12th win. If the Cardinals want to take the next step toward becoming a playoff team, a win over San Francisco here could be the spring board they need early in the season.
Week 4 (9/28): vs. Philadelphia Eagles 1:25 p.m. FOX
The Eagles and promising quarterback Nick Foles will come to San Francisco as the first playoff team from 2013 on the schedule. Much will be made of the of the Chip Kelly and Harbaugh college rivalry stemming back to their days at Oregon and Stanford. Kelly has transformed his team's playing style to fit the NFL game effectively, but oppositions will have an offseason under their belts finding out what he likes to do with his explosive offense. The Eagles will be without DeSean Jackson, but still figure to be a very intriguing matchup for the 49ers in the second regular season game at Levi's.
Week 5 (10/5): vs. Kansas City Chiefs 4:25 p.m. CBS
Many pegged the Chiefs as the leading candidate to play the 49ers in the home opener. But alas, it didn't happen, nor is the game in prime time. Perhaps the Alex Smith narrative carried more weight locally than nationally. Regardless, Kansas City will be a tough opponent that mirrors San Francisco with their sound running game and fierce defense. In the first season under Andy Reid, the Chiefs finished last year 11-5 and made it to the playoffs but lost in the first round on the road to Andrew Luck and the Colts who came back from a 31-10 halftime deficit to win 45-44. The 49ers have won the last four match ups with against Kansas City.
Week 6 (10/13): @ St. Louis Rams 5:30 p.m. ESPN (Monday Night Football)
Much like the Cardinals, the Rams will be looking to take the next step and become a playoff team. To do so they will look to make a statement against San Francisco in a home game in front of Monday Night Football audience. St. Louis always finds a way to play the 49ers tough, excluding last year's 35-11 loss on a Thursday night game in Week 4. Loaded with one of the conferences premier defensive fronts, the Rams will hope their offense can improve and give San Francisco a fit on their home field. This will be the 49ers' only Monday Night Football game of the season after having two in 2013.
Week 7 (10/19): @ Denver Broncos 5:30 p.m. NBC
Perhaps the toughest game on the schedule that doesn't involve the defending world champions, the 49ers will take to the Mile High City to play the defending AFC champs and Peyton Manning in the national game of the week. It will be their third prime time game in the early going before playing almost exclusively afternoon games from this point on out (sans Thanksgiving). Many believed last year's NFC Championship Game between the 49ers and Seahawks was the real Super Bowl and that San Francisco would have had similar ease beating Denver. Reloaded with top-tier free agents - including DeMarcus Ware, Aqib Talib, T.J. Ward and Emmanuel Sanders - the Broncos will be elite. The question is whether or not their new additions will be enough to bring them back to the Super Bowl behind the 38-year-old Manning.
Week 8 -BYE-
The bye comes nearly at the midpoint of the season after two tough road games. Fortunately for the 49ers, neither of those games will be played in London which preceded last year's bye in Week 9. Having a week off after a short flight to Denver will help the team get geared up for what looks to be a tougher second half of the schedule.
Week 9 (11/2): vs. St. Louis Rams 1:05 p.m. FOX
The 49ers and Rams will play again for the second time in three games. One of the teams will be looking for revenge after Week 6's tilt on Monday Night. The Rams will be in the heart of a very tough stretch in their schedule that features three-straight road games. St. Louis has a bye in Week 4 but then an extremely difficult eight-game string following. They play at the Eagles, home to the 49ers, home to the Seahawks, at Kansas City, at San Francisco, at Arizona, home to the Broncos and at San Diego. Bottom line: those eight games could determine the Rams' season.
Week 10 (11/9): @ New Orleans Saints 10:00 a.m. FOX
The 49ers will play the Saints in New Orleans for the third-straight year hoping to get a little revenge after the infamous Ahmad Brooks personal foul that likely cost San Francisco the win last November. Had they gotten the W there, they would have won the division and the NFC Championship Game would have been in San Francisco and not Seattle. There might not have been a more season-defining play if you're a 49ers fan. The Saints will likely be a contender once again after getting ousted in the second round in a one-score game in Seattle 23-15. There's a chance the 49ers could spend the following practice week in Youngstown, Ohio with a trip to New York the next week.
Week 11 (11/16): @ New York Giants 10:00 a.m. FOX
San Francisco's lone trip to the east coast will be its second straight 10 a.m. pacific start. Coming off a rough 7-9 season, the Giants are always one of those teams that feel like they could beat anyone on any given day given their two Super Bowl runs in 2007 and 2011 under Tom Coughlin. The 49ers will be making their first trip to play the Giants since 2008 when they lost 29-17. The last time the teams played was in the NFC title game in 2011. Kyle Williams is unlikely to be returning punts for San Francisco in this one.
Week 12 (11/23): vs. Washington Redskins 1:25 p.m. CBS
Nothing went right for Robert Griffin and his team last year as they finished 3-13 after making the playoffs the previous year. Griffin will hope to be fully recovered from a knee injury that hampered him most of the season which was apparent in their 27-6 home loss to San Francisco on Monday Night football last November. Washington found a new coach in Jay Gruden who hopes to reinvigorate the offense and get the team back to the playoffs. Landing DeSean Jackson in the offseason won't hurt.
Week 13 (11/27): vs. Seattle Seahawks 5:30 p.m. NBC (Thanksgiving)
This will be the game everyone will be pointing to. The 49ers will have to wait the first three month's of the season to get back at the Seahawks for the conference title game in which they outplayed the Seahawks for three quarters. It's clear the NFL wanted to maximize its holiday ratings with this heavy-weight tilt, but it's a little unfortunate this game will come on a short week for both teams. Thursday night games have a tendency to be sloppy and given these two defenses, scoring will come at a premium. The last time these two teams played on a Thursday night San Francisco came away with an ugly 13-6 win in October of 2012.
Week 14 (12/7): @ Oakland Raiders 1:25 p.m. FOX
The Giants won't be playing the Jets this year, so no team will have a shorter trip to a road game than the 49ers in this game against the Raiders. The two teams haven't played since scrapping their preseason games against one another after numerous violent incidents occurred among fans. The last time they played in Oakland during the regular season was 2002. San Francisco has won its last three games against its Bay Area counterpart.
Week 15 (12/14): @ Seattle Seahawks 1:25 p.m. FOX
These two teams will match up twice in a three-week span, which will likely have major implications on the division race. CenturyLink Field is becoming a house of horrors for the 49ers, who haven't won a game there since Russell Wilson was drafted in 2012. The last time they won was behind Alex Smith in Week 16 of 2011. This one could get flexed into prime time, making it the fourth-straight prime time game between these two teams in Seattle. But it's likely FOX will hold on to this afternoon tilt because it could have more value than any other game on its docket.
Week 16 (12/20): vs. San Diego Chargers 1:30 p.m. CBS/NFL Net
In a rare Saturday game, the 49ers will play the Chargers in the first of two straight home games to end the regular season slate. San Diego is hoping to improve on their playoff run a year ago in the first season under Mike McCoy when they advanced to divisional round after finishing the regular season 9-7. The Chargers will be another trendy pick heading into the season riding their upward trajectory under their new coach, but it's often those kind of teams that struggle to repeat their successes from the previous year. In the rough AFC West, the Chargers could be a desperate team battling for a playoff spot this late in the season.
Week 17 (12/28): vs. Arizona Cardinals 1:25 p.m. FOX
For the second year in a row the 49ers will play the Cardinals to end the regular season. This time San Francisco will be home team. Arizona will likely be in the thick of the playoff picture if their level of play from 2013 is an indication. The Cardinals will finish the year with four of their last six games on the road, including trips to Seattle, St. Louis and this one to San Francisco.
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