Must-Win Games for the San Francisco 49ers on Their 2012 Schedule

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You gotta love 49ers fans. After a decade of incompetence, it’s back to Super Bowl-or-bust expectations in San Francisco.

But the 49ers will face a much steeper climb back into the title hunt this year because they got dealt a brutal schedule.

With home-field advantage the end goal, every game matters. But you better believe Harbaugh and Co. have already circled a few dates on the calendar as being especially important—starting with Week 2, hosting the Detroit Lions on Sunday night.

The Harbaugh-Schwartz handshake will have been on repeat for a week, and the 49ers will probably enter that game 0-1 after opening the season in Green Bay.

This is a classic “prove last year wasn’t a fluke” game for both teams, and the 49ers can’t afford to start the year 0-2. So it's definitely a game they have to win.

Speaking of last year, a Week 6 rematch with the New York Giants at Candlestick is another must-win for San Francisco.

Every player wearing red and gold will have spent the entire offseason obsessing about that playoff loss to the Giants, and the rematch is a chance to exercise those demons and earn a key tie-breaker when it comes to home field.

Of course, the 49ers won’t be talking about a first seed if they don’t continue their dominance in the division, and the Week 16 game in Seattle is going to be their toughest test. The Seahawks are going to be better under Matt Flynn, the weather is going to be crappy and the crowd is going to be crazy.

A convincing win will assure that the 49ers are back among the league’s elite. On the other hand, a bad loss will halt momentum heading into the playoffs and cue the questions about whether 2011’s magical run was just a one-year wonder.

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