For the first time since the final whistle blew on the NFC Championship Game, the San Francisco 49ers have meaningful games set in stone for the upcoming season.
Four months separate this paper schedule from its life played out on the gridiron, but the speculation doesn't have to wait until the opening weekend of September. Only time will show which teams rise next season, but the upcoming battles don't look easy for the 49ers.
In fact, the 49ers face a schedule tied for the fourth toughest in 2014, according to John Breech of CBSSports.com. In terms of 2013 results, San Francisco's upcoming opponents combined for a 144-112 record and a winning percentage of .563.
Of course, Jim Harbaugh's 49ers don't have the look of a slouch in their own right. On the road to their next playoff run, however, there will be several tests along the way.
When taking potential seeding and wild-card implications into account, several games appear more important than others.
It's a virtual guarantee that the 17 weeks of the season will play out differently than we expect, but some matchups are certainly worthy of an early circle on the calendars. For those looking to prioritize their fall weekends, look no further than these upcoming clashes.
Note: All statistics and rankings according to pro-football-reference.com, unless otherwise noted.