Contrary to popular belief, the day the NFL schedule is released is just as important as the media makes it seem—the way a schedule lays out can make or break an entire season.
That may seem dramatic, and while good football teams win games no matter the underlying circumstances, there are a slew of variables—many that have to do with a team's schedule—that can shift a close game one way or another.
When you have to travel to certain places during certain times; the timing of your bye week, kickoff times and other factors can have an affect on a game—and thus, your season.
Fortunately for San Francisco 49ers fans, coach Jim Harbaugh's team appears to have come out favorable in all of those aspects. Here's a look at the entire schedule, courtesy of ESPN.com (all times ET):
Week 1: Sunday, Sept. 8, Green Bay, 4:25 p.m.
Week 2: Sunday, Sept. 15, at Seattle, 8:30 p.m.
Week 3: Sunday, Sept. 22, Indianapolis, 4:25 p.m.
Week 4: Thursday, Sept. 26, at St. Louis, 8:25 p.m.
Week 5: Sunday, Oct. 6, Houston, 8:30 p.m.
Week 6: Sunday, Oct. 13, Arizona, 4:25 p.m.
Week 7: Sunday, Oct. 20, at Tennessee, 4:05 p.m.
Week 8: Sunday, Oct. 27, at Jacksonville, 1 p.m.
Week 9: BYE
Week 10: Sunday, Nov. 10, Carolina, 4:05 p.m.
Week 11: Sunday, Nov. 17, at New Orleans, 4:25 p.m.
Week 12: Monday, Nov. 25, at Washington, 8:30 p.m.
Week 13: Sunday, Dec. 1, St. Louis, 4:05 p.m.
Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 8, Seattle, 4:25 p.m.
Week 15: Sunday, Dec. 15, at Tampa Bay, 1 p.m.
Week 16: Monday, Dec. 23, Atlanta, 8:30 p.m.
Week 17: Sunday, Dec. 29, at Arizona, 4:25 p.m.
For a west coast team, avoiding early games (1 p.m. ET starts) on the opposite side of the country is crucial, as those often result in lackluster, tired performances. The Niners have only two scheduled early games, and one of those (at Jacksonville) is in London, where the team will arrive several days in advance.
The next obstacle is avoiding back-to-back road weeks, which can often be nearly impossible to get through with two wins.
The 49ers were unfortunate to get two such instances. The New Orleans-Washington combo in Week 11 and 12 is somewhat brutal and probably the worst part of this schedule, but with eight days in between, it's much more manageable. Tennessee and Jacksonville—two teams that combined for just eight wins last season—in Week 7 and 8 is a much easier road trip.
Other than that, nothing egregious sticks out.
The beginning of the schedule looks dangerous. Green Bay, Seattle, Indianapolis, St. Louis and Houston are all potential playoff teams. But we knew the Niners would have to face those teams already, and it could be better to face them at the beginning of the season before they are clicking on all cylinders.
San Francisco's December road games are at Tampa Bay and Arizona—not exactly two areas that are known for cold weather.
Week 9 is slightly late for a bye week, but it's not a bad spot.
All in all, the Niners avoided any major catastrophes in their schedule, and when you're attempting to return to the Super Bowl as the "hunted," every slight advantage makes a difference.
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