San Francisco 49ers: Updated Game-by-Game Outlook for 2012
The San Francisco 49ers (4-1) are on a roll right now, collecting wins in four of five games to start the season. Since their devastating loss to the Minnesota Vikings in Week 3, the team seems to be back on track—refocused and rejuvenated.
The Niners enter Week 6 honed in on the New York Giants, who will be traveling to the Bay Area for the third time in 11 months. In the two matches prior, the teams are even at one game apiece, ready for the tiebreaker on Sunday.
San Francisco looks like one of the better teams in the league right now, very possibly on pace for double-digit wins once again under head coach Jim Harbaugh.
In this piece, we will look beyond Week 6, doing a game-by-game breakdown of the rest of the 49ers season. For analysis on the rest of San Francisco's 2012 schedule, continue through the following slides.
Week 6 vs. New York Giants
In Week 6, the 49ers will host their second straight home game when the New York Giants come to town.
This will be the highly anticipated rematch of the NFC championship game, when the Niners lost in heartbreaking fashion, just a play or two away from the Super Bowl. The Giants went on to win it all, and they enter this game as the reigning world champs.
Both teams are elite representatives from the conference vying for title contention again this season.
Both teams have defenses that feature two of the league’s fiercest front sevens. They also share the commonality in having two of the league’s best up-and-coming pass-rushers in Aldon Smith and Jason Pierre-Paul.
And what people forget is both of the teams are starting two No. 1 overall draft picks at quarterback—Eli Manning was drafted in 2004, and Alex Smith a year later.
This could once again be a playoff preview.
Week 7 vs. Seattle Seahawks
The 49ers will cap off a three-game stretch of home games against the division rival Seattle Seahawks on Thursday Night Football.
In San Francisco’s second prime-time game, they will be operating off a shortened week. This makes a win for the 49ers in Week 6 that much more important, because they’d like to carry the momentum over from a win rather than a loss.
This game is also San Francisco’s first divisional game in 2012.
And it’s exciting that it comes against the Seahawks who, like the Niners, have recently emerged as a dangerous football team. In fact, the entire NFC West division has been earning respect from around the league. This will be a real battle between two hardened and hungry West Coast teams.
It will also be a continuance of that Carroll vs. Harbaugh epic. This rivalry stems back to their days in the Pac-10, when Pete Carroll was with USC and Jim Harbaugh with Stanford. Carroll’s Trojans had ruled the land for some time, but when Harbaugh came onto the scene in Palo Alto, the landscape changed.
Harbaugh reunited with Carroll in the NFC West and has since gone 2-0 against the Seahawks head coach.
Another exciting matchup between these two will be Seattle running back Marshawn Lynch versus this San Francisco defense. Lynch is the one tailback in the past three years to break 100 yards rushing on the 49ers. Channeling “Beast Mode,” Lynch stands alone as the potential kryptonite to this Niners run D.
Week 8 at Arizona Cardinals
San Francisco will go on the road to face the Arizona Cardinals in their second straight divisional game. This matchup will come the week before their midseason bye and is set to take place on Monday Night Football.
The stage is set for a slobber knocker, pitting two divisional opponents against each other where it will be strong defense versus strong defense. And like much of the NFC West, it will feature two hungry, young teams that are eager to prove themselves and earn a playoff berth.
Furthermore, as it pertains to grudges in the West, there is a serious disdain between these two. There is usually a lot of trash-talking before, during and after the game, and last year there were even punches thrown and players ejected.
Under the national spotlight, expect this one to be overly physical. The 49ers will be fighting hard considering it is their last game before the well-placed bye week, and the team will be focused on going into a week of rest with a win.
However, San Francisco should be cautious, as the Cardinals were the only NFC West team to beat the 49ers in 2011.
Week 10 vs. St. Louis Rams
The 49ers will play the St. Louis Rams in Week 10.
San Francisco will have a couple things going for them in this game. First, they will have fresh legs coming off a bye week, and second, they will be home at the ‘Stick. This week’s matchup versus the Rams will mark the third consecutive NFC West opponent the Niners face in a four-week span.
St. Louis is in the midst of a turnaround under new head coach Jeff Fisher, who seems to have the team functioning at a significantly higher level already. It’s safe to say the Rams will be a team on the rise in the next few seasons, even though that’s the 49ers' modus operandi.
The Rams have a lot of new talent and fresh faces, including two new top-tier corners in Cortland Finnegan and Janoris Jenkins. Chris Long and Robert Quinn have also been making noise this season, having handed the Cardinals their first loss of the season.
This should be the debut of a seemingly new rivalry.
Week 11 vs. Chicago Bears
In Week 11, the 49ers will play in their fourth prime-time game in 2012 when they host the Chicago Bears on Monday Night Football.
As it stands, the 49ers and Bears are two of the top teams in the NFC. They both tout balanced teams with offenses that can run and pass. In the games where they’ve been most efficient, San Francisco and Chicago have limited turnovers and called a balanced game offensively.
Furthermore, both teams have extremely strong defensive units that are two of the best when it comes to taking the football away. The Bears have been leading the league in the category, practically winning games on defense.
On the other side of the fence, the 49ers have been winning games on offense by taking care of the football. It should make for an interesting game when these two philosophies collide in prime time.
Week 12 at New Orleans Saints
This game is perhaps just as anticipated as the 49ers-Giants game of Week 6.
This will also be a playoff rematch, as San Francisco and New Orleans faced off in the divisional playoffs in what was arguably one of the greatest postseason games in NFL history.
However, this is a slightly different Saints team. In the first five games, they have been struggling mightily, only mustering a 1-4 record in that time. By the time this game rolls around, they might not even be in playoff contention—the NFC is that competitive.
On the other hand, the Saints could be desperate for a win and hoping for a wild card, which could make this an even more heated battle. The Niners eliminated the Saints from the playoffs last year, beating up Drew Brees and company pretty thoroughly. It was a drama-filled game that could carry over into this late-season matchup.
Additionally, this will be first time these two will have played one another since the now-infamous Greg Williams “Bounty” audio was released.
Week 13 at St. Louis Rams
For their second straight road game, the Niners will travel from Louisiana to Missouri and take on the St. Louis Rams.
This matchup will be their fourth divisional game and second since the Week 9 bye. It will also be the second time the 49ers face off against the Rams in four weeks. In 2011, San Francisco swept St. Louis, handing them a crushing defeat even at home.
But as mentioned before, this is a different Rams team that now has more upset potential. With the Rams being the apparent underdog, this could be a late-season trap game for the 49ers.
The Niners will have to bring their A-game in order to come away with a win, because at this point in the season, playoff seeding really comes into play.
Week 14 vs. Miami Dolphins
This will be the 49ers' third AFC East opponent of the 2012 season.
San Francisco will host the Miami Dolphins at Candlestick Park in Week 14, hoping to get an easy win. But the Dolphins have shown some life at times and even have a better-ranked run defense than the 49ers. They are still alive in the AFC East, and with the injuries to the Jets and collapse by the Bills, the Dolphins could be in line for a wild card.
Miami also has a couple of solid skill players who are elite at their position. Dolphins running back Reggie Bush, tackle Jake Long and defensive end Cameron Wake are all terrific players for Miami. There are also a number of up-and-comers on the roster, like rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill and receiver Brian Hartline.
The Dolphins will come to San Francisco expecting to compete, and the 49ers should not overlook them.
This will also be an interesting matchup considering Miami pursued Jim Harbaugh last year, failing to acquire him and settling with Joe Philbin this year. As pro head coaches, both of these men are early in their career, so it could go either way.
Week 15 at New England Patriots
In what will likely be the game of the week, the 49ers will go on the road for their fifth and final prime-time game of the 2012 season. San Francisco will travel to Foxborough, MA to take on the New England Patriots for Sunday Night Football.
As two contenders from their respective conferences, this matchup will easily be labeled a potential Super Bowl preview.
And what a spectacular clashing of philosophies it will be when Jim Harbaugh’s rough-and-tumble 49ers face Bill Belichick’s high-octane Patriots. Belichick is an early favorite for the Hall of Fame, while Harbaugh is an up-and-comer and reigning NFL Head Coach of the Year.
The Patriots have been the pride of the NFL for an entire decade, but Harbaugh’s Niners are the new kids in town, ready to challenge them for league supremacy.
In a lot of ways, this will be viewed as Tom Brady’s offense versus Patrick Willis’ defense. If this matchup were a film, it would be next summer’s Hollywood blockbuster.
Week 16 at Seattle Seahawks
The 49ers will face the Seahawks in Week 16, and depending on how the first game goes, this one could be even more heated than the last.
Fans can expect an extremely physical contest once again, as two top-five defenses take the field in a serious power struggle for the NFC West. As a late-season game, this could have potential postseason implications, so there should be a playoff atmosphere in the league’s loudest stadium at Qwest Field.
However, at this juncture, who will be the QB? Russell Wilson or Matt Flynn?
One thing is for sure: NFC West matches will no longer be the bores of the NFL’s weekly schedule.
Week 17 vs. Arizona Cardinals
To close out the 2012 NFL regular season, the 49ers will host the Cardinals at Candlestick Park.
It will be interesting to see where these two teams are when this game takes place. Like the Seahawks, the Cardinals could be in a midseason quarterback controversy. John Skelton is returning to full health, yet Kevin Kolb has put together a 4-1 record in his absence.
Whether that winning percentage can endure up to this point in the season remains a question. The Cardinals could very well be in the playoff race by Week 17—it could come down to the wire. And for a second straight week, the 49ers should be in for a hard-fought divisional game.
San Francisco, as well, could be fighting for playoff seeding.