As of 7pm ET on Tuesday, April 17, the 2012 NFL regular season schedule was officially released. After taking a look at the 49ers lineup, it's a tough schedule but certainly an entertaining one. Before last season, I would've looked at this schedule and thrown it away in anger - but even though there are some difficult matchups, they are very winnable games.
Breaking down the matchups against the more competitive teams, we can see that what was once almost an automatic loss is not so much anymore. The 49ers have the defense to combat these teams whether it be on the road or at home.
* is for Primetime Matchup
Week 1: 49ers @ Packers
Sunday, September 9th 1:15 PT
It doesn't take long for the 49ers to see some competition; in the first week of the regular season, the Niners will travel to Green Bay to take on Aaron Rodgers and the Packers at Lambeau Field.
It's real hard to beat the Rodgers-led Packers when they have home-field advantage, but if the Giants can do it, so can the 49ers.
Week 2: 49ers vs. Lions*
Sunday, September 16th 5:20 PT
Even though it is at home, this is the game that the 49ers should be on red alert. The Detroit Lions are coming to town and we all know what happened in 2011. This is going to be a heated battle and possibly a contender for game of the year.
This game directly follows the Packers game and will be the Sunday Night Football game. These two teams will be duking it out for NFC supremacy as well as personal pride.
Week 6: 49ers vs. Giants
Sunday, October 14th 1:15 PT
A rematch from the regular season last year as well as the NFC Championship game. And it will also be the Giants third visiting the 49ers within the span of a calendar year. It's going to be even more interesting given that Brandon Jacobs and Mario Manningham have since joined the 49ers.
The 49ers have the better defense, the more recent loss and a blossoming offense. I think San Francisco wins this outright. Week 6 seems to be about the right time the Giants are struggling to find their identity.
Week 11: 49ers vs. Bears*
Monday, November 19th 5:30 PT
The second primetime game for the 49ers will be against the Chicago Bears who now tout weapons like Matt Forte and Brandon Marshall. The defense is hardened and will play a physical brand of football against the 49ers.
This is also a big deal for Jim Harbaugh, even if he says it isn't. For a good part of Harbaugh's quarterbacking career, he was a Chicago Bear. This will be his first professional contest coaching against his former team.
Week 12: 49ers @ Saints
Sunday, November 25th 1:15 PT
This game should be a wild one as I'm sure the 49ers have a serious bone to pick with the New Orleans Saints after the Bountygate Scandal. The Saints also have some unfinished business with the 49ers after losing in that backbreaking fashion in the Divisional Playoff Round at Candlestick.
The Saints will be without head coach Sean Payton and possibly some defensive starters, but Drew Brees is dangerous on his home turf. This should be a great game in New Orleans.
Week 15: 49ers @ Patriots*
Sunday, December 16th 5:20 PT
Very much looking forward to this game, as it was my Super Bowl prediction in 2011. This is a potential Super Bowl matchup this year, with great offense versus great defense and both teams led by terrific head coaching. Tom Brady is going to see what this 49ers defense is made of, and it could be a long day for him.
As of now, the 49ers would break right through that changing Patriots offensive line. And the New England defense isn't good enough to contain a methodical 49ers offensive attack. But the Patriots get hot at the end of the season, so it will be a big-time matchup.
The 49ers have a much tougher regular season schedule than last year, but I suppose they've earned it. San Francisco has five primetime games this season, but these three should be the most talked about. The Niners do have an easier stretch in the middle of their schedule from week 5 to week 11. In that stretch of 7 weeks, the 49ers have 5 home games (BUF, NYG, SEA, STL and CHI) and a bye, with their one away game at Arizona.
Harbaugh will take it one game at a time once again and with expected improvement, the 49ers could very well end the season with double-digit wins once again. To predict a 12-4 or 11-5 finale with playoff berth wouldn't be outrageous, and it might be a pretty safe call. But the 49ers will also add players in the draft who will be factors in these matchups going forward, so it's really too early to make any sort of educated predictions.