John Madden has always said that the most important games in an NFL football team's season come during the month of November.
It is the month of November that separates the playoff-bound teams from the also-rans.
It will be no different for this year’s San Francisco 49ers, who face a tough, tough stretch from Nov. 1-29.
During that stretch, the 49ers take on five worthy opponents in a row.
The month begins with the Indianapolis Colts on the first, and ends with the Jacksonville Jaguars on the 29th—with the Tennessee Titans, Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers in between. Two games on the road, and three within the friendly confines of Candlestick Park.
A 3-2 record during this stretch might just propel the 49ers into the playoffs, but let's not get too far ahead of ourselves just yet.
I see the 49ers breaking camp and coming out of the gate playing hard and disciplined football for the first five weeks of the season.
Their first two games are at Arizona and against Seattle at home. I expect the 49ers to split these two tough divisional matches.
The 49ers then face a tough opponent on the road in Minnesota, then come home to face their division rival St. Louis and a playoff-caliber team in Atlanta. I believe San Francisco will lose on the road to Minnesota, but win their next two home games, bringing their record to 3-2 before the bye week.
This is when things will get start to get tough.
On paper, their next opponent, Houston, should be a pushover. However, the Texans are a team on the rise and the 49ers will start to be predictable in the execution of a vanilla running game and short passing attack.
It will be a trip-up game as the 49ers will be feeling a little cocky about being 3-2, already looking forward to facing Peyton Manning and the Colts. I see the Texans knocking the 49ers back down to size, bringing their record to 3-3.
Now, the gauntlet of November begins.
The 49ers will lose to the Colts on the road as Manning will be too much for the 49ers secondary. The Niners will fall and fall hard.
It will be about this time Mike Singletary will be ripe for some colorful post-game comments about his team having to find the will to win.
The 49ers will now be a sub-.500 team at 3-4, and the fans and media will become restless.
The following week, the 49ers will respond and beat Tennessee—a team with a great head coach in Jeff Fisher, but not enough talent. The 49ers will move to .500 again at 4-4.
In their next game, they face a dream match-up between Singletary's old team and his new team—the 49ers vs. the Chicago Bears.
It is a Thursday-night marquee match-up in prime time, and the 49ers will rise to the occasion and beat the Bears—just barely—in a gut-wrenching, grind-it-out defensive game. Singletary will be in tears following the game, saying how proud he is of his 5-4 team.
The following week in cold Green Bay, the quarterback the 49ers passed on to take Alex Smith—Aaron Rodgers—will exact his revenge and pick apart the Niners’ secondary to bring high-flying San Francisco back to earth at 5-5.
The 49ers will return home to face the Jacksonville Jaguars on the Sunday following Thanksgiving,their last game for the month of November.
It is THIS very game that will be the bellweather for the entire 49ers season.
Beat the Jaguars, and the 49ers are 6-5 and full of confidence heading into two critical match-ups against division foes Seattle and Arizona.
Lose to the Jaguars, and the 49ers fall to 5-6 and begin to seriously doubt themselves.
Let's assume the 49ers rise to the occasion and beat the Jaguars, running the gauntlet of November with a 3-2 record against playoff-caliber teams.
They must now do what Mike Singletary has been preaching to them since he took over last season as interim head coach: Finish.
I see the 49ers splitting (again) against Arizona and Seattle. They are now at 7-6 team, and still clearly in the running for the NFC West crown or a wild card spot.
The team's last three games have the 49ers on the road against Philadelphia, at home against woeful Detroit, and on the road again to close out against St. Louis.
The 49ers will lose to the Eagles on the road and beat Detroit convincingly. They will then have to beat the Rams on the road to finish.
A win in their last game and the 49ers should finish at 9-7, possibly as a playoff team. A loss will ruin their hopes of a winning season with a disappointing 8-8 finish.
A fast start out of the gate, avoiding a letdown after the bye week, and the ability to survive the gauntlet of November will be keys to the 49ers success in 2009.
It should be an exciting season.
I can't wait for it to begin.