The 2014 NFL schedule came out Wednesday, and for San Francisco 49er fans, there’s one three-week set of games that immediately pops out.
I’ll never understand why the league insists on scheduling division games so close to one another. The 49ers and Seahawks aren’t the only teams to play twice in three weeks this year; the Dallas Cowboys and Philadelphia Eagles also play both on Thanksgiving and two Sundays later.
It seems by putting the games so close together, you risk a relatively minor injury altering the course of the season. Let’s say Colin Kaepernick or Russell Wilson gets a high ankle sprain and has to miss a month of the season. Should the NFC West really be decided by Blaine Gabbert or Tarvaris Jackson struggling against a top defense?
That being said, however, scheduling the games late in the season benefits the 49ers in a couple of ways.
First of all, it means it is likely NaVorro Bowman will be back for both games. While the linebacker is attending offseason workouts, he’s still recovering from the torn ACL he suffered in the NFC Championship Game. He’ll be back somewhere in the mid-to-late stages of the 2014 season.
Had the 49ers and Seahawks opened the season, perhaps in the opening night game, then Bowman would have missed one of the two games. Having a key player like Bowman back in the lineup will benefit the 49ers.
In addition, there’s a chance this could impact Aldon Smith’s likelihood to play in the game. While Smith’s immediate future remains in limbo, thanks to his false report of a bomb threat as well as his DUI last season, in only the worst-case scenarios would he see a suspension that would take him through that first matchup against Seattle in Week 13.
Smith will almost assuredly face some discipline from the league office for his offseason fiascos, but suspensions of a full season are exceptionally rare. Unless Smith ends up facing actual jail time for his charges, he should be available for both tilts with Seattle.
This means, barring the usual injuries accumulated over an NFL season, both the Seahawks and 49ers should be at full strength for both of their clashes in 2014. While I personally would have preferred the games a bit more spread out, it’s preferable for both the 49ers and fans of competitive football to see these games when both teams can bring everyone to the table.
In addition, the scheduling around the games might end up benefiting the 49ers, as well.
San Francisco, which normally has one of the longer travel schedules in the NFL due to playing on the West Coast, has a very nice schedule for the last six weeks of the 2014 season. They have four games at home, and the only two road trips are to Oakland and Seattle, two of the three shortest possible road trips. Oakland’s a bus ride away, while Seattle is only a two-hour flight.
The lack of significant travel should give the 49ers plenty of time to rest and recuperate for the stretch run at the end of the season.
In addition, look at the scheduling of games around the two 49er-Seahawk clashes.
The week before Thanksgiving, the 49ers host the Washington Redskins and then stay at home to take on Seattle. They then have the grueling road trip across the bay to Oakland, before flying out to face the Seahawks.
Washington and Oakland had a combined 7-25 record in 2013, making it a fairly easy set of games surrounding the big matchups. In addition, the 49ers will only travel around 700 miles before their second matchup with Seattle—to and from Oakland and then up to Seattle.
That’s a pretty nice setup for your two most critical games of the season.
On the other hand, the Seahawks host the Arizona Cardinals the week before Thanksgiving and before traveling down to San Francisco four days later for the Thanksgiving game. They then have to fly all the way out to Philadelphia to face Chip Kelly’s up-tempo Eagles, a playoff team last year, before flying back home to take on the 49ers.
Arizona and Philadelphia had a combined 20-12 record in 2013. The Eagles made the playoffs, while the Cardinals very nearly did. Add in the two 49er games, and that’s a brutal four-week stretch for the defending Super Bowl champs.
The travel should wear them down, as well. They have to fly to and from San Francisco and then to and from Philadelphia in this four-week period. That’s over 6,000 miles of traveling—they might be just a bit jetlagged on their way to leg two of the matchup.
With the NFC West likely to be decided by the outcome of the two clashes between Seattle and San Francisco, every little advantage helps. The 49ers, in essence, lucked out by having the games being put late in the season and by having relatively lower-quality opponents surrounding the matchups.
That’s not to say the 49ers got entirely blessed by the scheduling gods—they have to face the Eagles and Chiefs in back-to-back weeks in September and October, while November sees consecutive road trips to New Orleans and then to New York to take on the Giants.
When it comes to the most important games on the schedule, however, the 49ers can be more than satisfied with their 2014 NFL schedule.