2006 schedule sets up nicely for Niners

It begins in the desert heat of Arizona in September and ends in the wintry Rocky Mountains on the final day of year. In between, the 49ers' 2006 schedule will be highlighted by a home game against the neighborhood rival Oakland Raiders and a nationally-televised Thursday night game against the defending NFC champion Seahawks in Seattle - one of just three 2005 playoff teams the 49ers will face this season.

The 49ers won't face a team that made the playoffs last season until they travel to play the Bears in Chicago on Oct. 29 after their Oct. 22 bye week. San Francisco has only three other games scheduled against 2005 playoff teams – two against the Seahawks and one against defending AFC West champion Denver on New Year's Eve.

The Niners open the season Sept. 10 against the Cardinals in Arizona, then return to San Francisco to meet the St. Louis Rams in their home opener for the second consecutive season. The 49ers are at home in Week 3 against Philadelphia, then begin a run of three consecutive games against AFC West opponents.

Included in the middle of that run is an October 8 home game against the Raiders, the first regular-season meeting between the Bay Area rivals since 2002 and the first time they've faced each other in San Francisco since 2000. Both of those games turned out to be thrillers – the Raiders prevailed 34-28 in overtime on their way to the first of three consecutive AFC West titles in 2000, and the 49ers returned the favor in Oakland two years later when they bounced the Raiders 23-20 in overtime on their way to San Francisco's only NFC West title in the past eight seasons.

"Playing a regular-season game against the Raiders will be exciting for the entire Bay Area," 49ers coach Mike Nolan said. "Any time you play a cross-town rival or a division opponent it always seems to energize the fans and the team."

With the 49ers facing opponents in 2006 from the NFC North and AFC West, San Francisco won't travel nearly as many miles this season as it usually does. The Niners – who customarily log more travel miles than practically any other NFL team each season – will travel 22,514 miles during the regular season. Last year, they traveled 30,506 miles during the regular season.

The 49ers will play five of their first eight and six of their first 10 games at home. They have two two-game homestands (St. Louis and Philadelphia, Sept. 17 & 24 and Oakland and San Diego, Oct. 8 & 15) and play consecutive games on the road just once all season (at St. Louis and New Orleans, Nov. 26 & Dec. 3).

"I like the fact that our schedule has five home games right in the first half of the season," Nolan said. "I have always said that our fans play a big role in our success. Playing at home with the crowd behind us hopefully will help push us to a great start."

On paper, the roughest stretch for the 49ers appears to be in October, when they begin the month at Kansas City (10-6 last year) and also play the Raiders and Chargers (9-7) before ending the month at defending NFC North champion Chicago (11-5). The next week, to begin November, the 49ers host the Minnesota Vikings (9-7).

No other opponents on the schedule besides Seattle (13-3) and Denver (13-3) had winning records in 2005.

For the third season in a row, the 49ers were left off the NFL's Monday Night Football schedule, but the team could appear in nationally-televised Sunday night games over the final two months of the season according to the NFL's new flexible schedule for Sunday starts during that span, which will allow the NFL to bring more attractive match-ups to a national audience late in the season.

The 49ers definitely will be on national television during the sixth week of the flexible schedule. That's when they play a Thursday night game at Seattle in a match-up that will be broadcast by the NFL Network.

All times local

Sunday, September 10 @ Arizona, 1:15 p.m., FOX
Sunday, September 17 vs. St. Louis, 1:05 p.m., FOX
Sunday, September 24 vs. Philadelphia, 1:15 p.m., FOX
Sunday, October 1 @ Kansas City, 12 noon, FOX
Sunday, October 8 vs. Oakland, 1:05 p.m., CBS
Sunday, October 15, vs. San Diego, 1:15 p.m., CBS
Sunday, October 29 @ Chicago, 12 noon, FOX
Sunday, November 5 vs. Minnesota, 1:05 p.m., FOX
*Sunday, November 12 @ Detroit, 1 p.m., FLEX
*Sunday, November 19 vs. Seattle, 1:05 p.m., FLEX
*Sunday, November 26 @ St. Louis, 12 noon, FLEX
*Sunday, December 3 @ New Orleans, 12 noon, FLEX
*Sunday, December 10 vs. Green Bay, 1:05 p.m., FLEX
Thursday, December 14 @ Seattle, 5 p.m., NFL NETWORK
Sunday, December 24 vs. Arizona, 1:05 p.m., FOX
*Sunday, December 31 @ Denver, 2:15 p.m., FLEX

NOTE: *As part of the National Football League's new agreement with NBC to televise Sunday Night Football, the NFL will implement a flexible schedule for Sunday start times for seven of the final eight weeks of the season (Week 16 is a holiday weekend and will not be subject to flexible scheduling). This will allow the NFL to bring more attractive match-ups to a national audience late in the season.

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