Game-by-Game Predictions for the San Francisco 49ers' 2013 Schedule

Dylan DeSimone@@DeSimone80Correspondent IJanuary 8, 2013

Game-by-Game Predictions for the San Francisco 49ers' 2013 Schedule

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    Even though the San Francisco 49ers are still very much involved in the 2012-13 season, it is never too early to start thinking ahead. 

    San Francisco’s opponents for 2013 were released, however, the schedule-maker is yet to complete the official week-to-week lineup. We now know that outside their own division, the 49ers will be pitted against the NFC South and AFC South.

    Combined, both divisions have a fair amount of competitive teams and up-and-coming challengers.

    Houston and Indianapolis had a combined record of 23-9, each racking up double-digit wins. Atlanta (13-3) handedly ruled the South, but New Orleans and Tampa Bay are on the Falcons' coattails, prepared to dethrone them in 2013.

    Of their upcoming opponents, only Houston and Atlanta had better records than San Francisco in 2012. But overall, the 49ers will have seven games against playoff teams from 2012. Fortunately, five of those seven games will be at Candlestick Park, when San Francisco hosts Houston, Atlanta, Green Bay, Indianapolis and Seattle

Home: Falcons

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    The Falcons have established themselves as one of the juggernauts in the league, as a relatively new power in the NFC. Like San Francisco, Atlanta clinched home-field advantage and a first-round bye in 2012.

    This is a potential matchup in the NFC title game this year–either one of these teams could be representing the conference in Super Bowl XLVII.

    The Falcons went 13-3 in 2012; steamrolling teams with their dreamlike catalog of offensive playmakers. They have found success in this league because they bring a great deal of offensive firepower, and frankly, they can outscore most teams they face.

    It will take a top-ranked unit to slow the tempo of this Atlanta offense. So right off the bat, the intriguing storyline becomes Matt Ryan and the Falcons versus Patrick Willis and the 49ers.

    The Falcons will attack the 49ers vertically, challenging their depth at corner. Atlanta will try to spread out their defense and locate mismatches. But when it comes to the Falcons’ receivers and the 49ers’ secondary, these two teams might find they are evenly matched. 

    Ryan and the Falcons are tough at home, so the 49ers are lucky to have this one at the ‘Stick. Atlanta will have to rely on its defense, which has been coming together this year. If the Falcons' defense can catch up to their offense, they will be inexorable, but San Francisco has what it takes to get it done at home.


    Outcome: 49ers victory 

Away: Saints

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    The Saints had a down year to say the least, finishing below .500 without head coach Sean Payton. 

    Even though they went 7-9, Drew Brees threw for over 5,000 yards for the third time in his career and threw for over 40 touchdowns for only the second time in his career. But clearly one man’s efforts, no matter how great, are not enough to win games in the ultimate team sport.

    Only three years removed the Super Bowl, New Orleans lacked direction in 2012. This is a team that should be league titans, but greatly underperformed. But the Saints should regain their structure next season.    

    After a one-year suspension, Payton is expected to be reinstated in the league. More than likely, he will return to active duty in 2013, giving the Saints their head coach back. But with and without Payton, Jim Harbaugh and the 49ers are 2-0 versus Drew Brees and the Saints.

    San Francisco has played them well defensively in the past two matchups. The Niners have won at Candlestick Park and at the Super Dome. It seems that schematically, they understand what Brees is going to do, and they have the personnel to combat it.

    However, the Saints could be back to full form when the 49ers make the trip to the bayou. It would be awfully difficult for Harbaugh’s Niners to go 3-0 against Brees and the Saints, especially when you include back-to-back road wins.


    Outcome: Saints victory

Home: Panthers

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    Looking forward, the Carolina Panthers are a team to watch.

    In 2011, the franchise spent the No. 1 overall selection in the draft on quarterback Cam Newton. His rookie season was inspiring, as he immediately began to carry the team. Though, in his second year as a pro, he struggled to push his game forward for various reasons.

    The Panthers, however, did end their season on a high note, going 5-1 in their last six games. Newton and company finished the season on a four-game win streak, scoring 30-plus points in three of those victories.

    The team certainly has potential, and now that Ron Rivera will be able to resume his duties as head coach, the continuity will be there, allowing for potential growth.

    Though, the evolution of Newton is difficult to predict. Two of the main questions are, can he be consistent and can he be a proper leader?

    If this game falls in the middle of the season when the Panthers have hit one of their dry spells and Newton is unenthused at the podium, it’ll be a steal for the 49ers. But there’s the chance that Carolina comes out next year with a new mindset, personnel upgrades and becomes a legitimate competitor.

    At this point, the smart money says the 49ers' defense frustrates Newton, and San Francisco walks away with this one.


    Outcome: 49ers victory

Away: Buccaneers

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    Even though they finished neck-and-neck with the Panthers and the Saints at 7-9, the Buccaneers showed they are competing again.

    In 2013, Greg Schiano will be entering his second year as an NFL head coach, but already has his team on the right path.  When Schiano came to town, the team had some significant changeover and added new key players. 

    With a new Pro Bowl guard, a top-flight receiver and an aggressive young talent at running back, the offense has greatly evolved from 2011 to 2012. The Buccaneers could make yet another jump in 2013. 

    Doug Martin and Vincent Jackson make Tampa Bay threatening on the ground and in the air. This offseason, the new regime will look to build on the foundation, and could pull out some surprises in Year 2.

    That offense, paired with up-and-coming linebacker LaVonte David and a top-ranked run defense, could challenge the 49ers next season. The last time San Francisco and Tampa Bay faced each one another; Josh Freeman’s Bucs were demolished.

    This should be a more competitive battle this time around, but the edge still goes to the 49ers. 


    Outcome: 49ers victory

Home: Texans

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    Houston is one of a handful of playoff teams the 49ers will have to face in 2013.

    Under head coach Gary Kubiak, the Texans’ highly talented roster has established itself as a perennial contender. Adding Wade Phillips to the team’s defensive staff has also helped the Texans make forward progress.

    With the air-and-ground tandem of Andre Johnson and Arian Foster, they can be efficient attacking defenses depending on the matchup. They also have one of the more potent levels of balance among all NFL offenses.

    Then there is the J.J. Watt factor.

    Watt has emerged as one of the fiercest defenders in all of football, defying the logistics of his position. He is an all-around destructive player, as a factor against both the run and the pass. He is also versatile enough to play every position on the defensive line, so each member of San Francisco’s front will be challenged.

    And philosophically, these two teams are eerily similar—two power-run teams that rely on play-action to push the ball downfield, and employ 3-4 schemes defensively. 

    One thing is for sure; it will be nice to have Watt and Aldon Smith on display. Hopefully, the schedule-maker sets this one for prime time.


    Outcome: 49ers victory

Away: Jaguars

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    In 2013, the 49ers will travel to London to face the Jaguars at Wembley Stadium.

    These are two teams that are at opposite ends of the spectrum. San Francisco has established itself as an annual title contender. Meanwhile, Jacksonville is struggling to find an identity, consistently finishing near the bottom.  

    Given the state of the Jaguars franchise, it is difficult to fathom them getting to the 49ers' level in the span of an offseason. San Francisco won nine more games than Jacksonville this year, which could be indicative of how next year’s matchup goes. 

    Unless the 49ers come out completely jet-lagged, it should be a breeze for them in the UK.

    The Jaguars, who finished 2-14 in 2012, will have a top pick in this year’s draft. Unfortunately for them, there are no franchise passers available, and the team hardly seems committed to Blaine Gabbert.

    Interestingly enough, Jacksonville is a team that could wind up with some of San Francisco’s pieces, including Tom Gamble, Jim Tomsula, Greg Roman and/or Alex Smith.


    Outcome: 49ers victory

Home: Colts

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    For any indifferent NFL fans out there, the Indianapolis Colts were a remarkable team to watch in 2012. After losing Peyton Manning and only winning two games in 2011, the team drafted Andrew Luck No. 1 overall and rode him to an 11-5 record and a postseason appearance.

    The staff that head coach Chuck Pagano and general manager Ryan Grigson assembled in Indy was key. They were able to put their players in a position to succeed, not only long-term, but immediately.

    It’s clear they have a team on the rise.

    When the Colts head to the Bay Area, the captivating headline will be Jim Harbaugh vs. Andrew Luck. Harbaugh recruited Luck to Stanford, and together, they turned the program around one game at a time.

    But beyond the familiarity with Luck and Harbaugh, there is another connection to be made. When Pagano agreed to become the head coach of the Colts, he left the Ravens to do it. Pagano was the defensive coordinator for Baltimore, and is extremely close with Jim Harbaugh's brother John.

    Pagano has an understanding of how the Harbaughs operate, and that may be an advantage. This game could go either way, but in 2013, give the nod to the 49ers.


    Outcome: 49ers victory

Away: Titans

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    The Titans have been underperforming; individually and collectively. They have not been able to get this ship to set sail. Even though they have a number of pieces in place, they’ve been inconsistent, at best. 

    They have four offensive talents—Kenny Britt, Kendall Wright, Jared Cook and Chris Johnson – that should have this team rolling. But because of questions surrounding the system and the quarterback, the team has suffered repeated setbacks. 

    Tennessee went 6-10 in 2012, winning five of those games outside its division. The Titans only had one win against the AFC South, perhaps showing they perform better against unfamiliar teams.

    San Francisco shouldn’t have much trouble against Tennessee. If it’s one of those games where Johnson is blazing and the 49ers' defense is flat, the sleeper potential is there for the Titans to steal this one.

    However, the scale tips in favor of the Niners.


    Outcome: 49ers victory

Home: Packers

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    The 49ers have had one game already against the Packers during the Harbaugh era. This season, the Niners had to get things started on the road at Green Bay. They traveled to Lambeau and convincingly knocked off the Pack in Week 1, but that would not be the end of their story during the 2012-13 season.

    San Francisco has a big game against them in Saturday’s divisional playoff round. This time, the 49ers will host Aaron Rodgers and the Packers.

    Their 2013 matchup will be their third meeting in two years. 

    However, the 49ers play well against this sort of team. Showing that this defense travels well and the offense is not be taken lightly, San Francisco went 3-0 at Green Bay, at New Orleans and at New England in 2012.

    But the fact of the matter is, one of these teams could very well be the next Super Bowl champion, and we don’t know which yet. The ending of this weekend’s divisional game will also carry over to next year’s match.


    Outcome: 49ers victory 

Away: Redskins

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    The Redskins have had a significant turnaround, particularly on the offensive side of the ball. They struggled to find an identity, going through second-rate quarterbacks over the past decade. The franchise finally decided to bet the house on a young man from Baylor, and it turned out to be a great decision.

    In their first year with the rookie quarterback, Robert Griffin III led the Redskins to the postseason. He has been labeled a savior by the organization and fan base, as a promising young talent in this league. 

    The one thing you can count on from an RGIII-led team is a relentless fight. They are going to continue to challenge defenses by making them defend the whole field. And not to mention, Griffin has been greatly complemented by the emergence of running back Alfred Morris. 

    If the Redskins can build their secondary up this offseason, they could be a threat to win a lot more games in 2013, including every game at home.


    Outcome: 49ers victory 

Home/Away: Cardinals

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    The Arizona Cardinals are coming apart at the seams.

    Instead of bringing consistency and efficiency from the most critical spot on the field, the quarterback position remains unsolved for the Cards. In 2012, week-in and week-out, Arizona entered game day with the QB as a liability rather than an asset.

    Although their season is over and they can begin to make changes, they have been relatively quiet. Originally the team was rumored to be interested in bringing in Andy Reid as head coach, but that quickly flopped. 

    Their offseason could go a few different ways, but it’s not off to a good start. The market for quarterbacks this offseason is terrible, which hurts them considerably, since that is their biggest need.

    The quarterback position has been atrocious for Arizona. The Cardinals started four different passers this year on their way to finishing 5-11. The Cardinals were not good against the West, but would occasionally show up against non-divisional opponents. Out of six matchups, they only won one game in their division. 

    Harbaugh’s 49ers have a solid record against this Cardinals team too, as it currently stands at 3-1. San Francisco swept Arizona this year and it could happen again in 2013.


    Outcome: 2-0 49ers sweep 

Home/Away: Rams

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    For one reason or another, the 49ers simply could not find their groove against the Rams in 2012.

    Part of it was likely due to the arrival of Jeff Fisher in St. Louis, as well as the added talent on both sides of the ball. Another element that existed in both games was that St. Louis was lucky enough to catch San Francisco on that eerily cursed every third game.

    After two wins, San Francisco would show up in its third game out of character, out of tune and fundamentally flat in all aspects. It happened against the Vikings, Giants, Seahawks and Rams, twice.

    But the Rams deserve credit because they are indeed ascending under Fisher.

    In two games in 2013, I expect San Francisco to split. It will still be an improvement from the year before, but not ideal for 49ers fans. Nonetheless, the NFC West is swiftly rising, and teams are going to continue gunning for the Niners.


    Outcome: 1-1


Home/Away: Seahawks

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    The Seahawks are the perfect competitive match to the 49ers. They are one of the few teams in the league that can match the tenacious physicality San Francisco brings on game day. One of the Niners’ greatest strengths is that they can usually outhit their opponent—but the ‘Hawks hit back.

    These teams split in 2012, each winning at their home stadium.

    This is one of the top budding rivalries in the NFL. As Ray Lewis exits from Baltimore and the Steelers watch the playoffs from home, the league should prepare itself for years of hard-fought 49ers-Seahawks games.

    Only a few years ago, this matchup would have been deemed unwatchable by fans and analysts alike. Now, two games a season isn’t enough—people want prime time and postseason matchups.

    Both teams are hot on the trail for Super Bowl titles, but understand that they are both standing directly in each other’s way. This is what makes for such great battles between these two, because it becomes personal.

    Add in a loudmouthed Richard Sherman and the coaching history between Jim Harbaugh and Pete Carroll, and you’ve got quite an annual grudge match.


    Outcome: 1-1