Still, with all that being said, you have to admit that San Francisco's schedule doesn't look particularly daunting, at least compared to last year's. In 2009 the Niners had nine games against playoff teams from the previous season. This year they have only six such games, and never two in succession. Plus half of those, the two with Arizona and the other against the Philadelphia Eagles, are going to be against teams that will be starting over with unproven youngsters at quarterback in Matt Leinart and Kevin Kolb respectively.
Perhaps the biggest headline of the schedule is that for the first time since the 2004 season, the 49ers won't be kicking things off with the Cardinals, opening instead against another NFC West rival, the Seattle Seahawks at Qwest Field on Sept. 12. However, that will be their only division game of their first eight, so it will be critical for the team to do better outside of the NFC West than last year where they were 5-1 in the division and 3-7 against everyone else.
The home portion of the schedule begins the following week on Monday night, Sept. 20 against the defending Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints. It's undeniable that the league expects big things from the 49ers this year as that game will be only the first of four prime-time affairs. There's also an Oct. 10 Sunday night clash with the Eagles, a Nov. 29 Monday nighter at Arizona and a Dec. 16 Thursday night contest at San Diego at Qualcomm Stadium.
Of course the oddest twist will be the "home" game against the Denver Broncos in England on Oct. 31. Even though the 49ers had to sacrifice one of their Candlestick Park dates for the sake of global expansion, the league at least had the decency to schedule them to play on the east coast the week prior (Oct. 24 at Carolina) so they won't have to fly all the way from San Francisco to London, and to give them a "Bye" week after the Denver game smack dab in the middle of the season to rest up for the stretch run.
All in all it's a fair, balanced schedule without more than two home or road games in a row and plenty of rebuilding teams to fatten up on during the second half. Of course, that's what we think now. Who knows, the St. Louis Rams might be 13-1 when the 49ers visit them on Dec. 26.
At SEATTLE: Sep 12, 1:15 p.m., FOX – Unquestionably the toughest loss last year was a 20-17 heartbreaker last December 6th in a game the 49ers dominated. They'll be looking to start out on the right note against a Seahawks team rebuilding with Coach Pete Carroll.
Vs. NEW ORLEANS: Sept 20, 5:30 p.m., ESPN – The Niners defense dominated at home last season, but Drew Brees and the defending champion Saints on Monday night will be their toughest challenge yet.
At KANSAS CITY: Sept 26, 10 a.m., FOX – Arrowhead Stadium has been a house of horrors for the Niners in past visits, but the Chiefs are coming off a 4-12 campaign and have a lot of holes.
At ATLANTA: Oct 3, 10 a.m., FOX – The Falcons handed the 49ers their biggest thumping of the season, 45-10 at Candlestick Park last October. Matt Ryan and Roddy White can't be allowed to play pitch and catch again.
Vs. PHILADELPHIA: Oct 10, 5:20 p.m., NBC – A Sunday night game against the Eagles, who have drubbed the Niners plenty this decade. However, all those whoopings came with Donovan McNabb under center, not Kolb.
At CAROLINA: Oct 24, 10 a.m., FOX – The 49ers take on a Panthers team that had two 1,100 yard rushers last season, with Singletary and offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye looking on in envy.
Vs. DENVER: Oct 31, 10 a.m., CBS – A home game in London's famous Wembley Stadium, which has hosted thousands of big football games over the years, but of the other variety.
BYE WEEK – If coaches had their druthers they'd all want the bye on Week 9.
Vs. ST. LOUIS: Nov 14, 1:15 p.m.,* FOX – The fans will be treated to their first real home game in nearly a month, and the 49ers will likely reward their patience by slapping around the poor Rams.
Vs. TAMPA BAY: Nov 21, 1:05 p.m.,* FOX – Another contest where they'll be expected to win and win handily if they're to be a playoff team in 2010.
At ARIZONA: Nov 29, 5:30 p.m., ESPN – The 49ers get their first look at the Kurt Warner-less Cardinals about eleven weeks and a day later than they expected to.
At GREEN BAY: Dec 5, 10 a.m.,* FOX – Smith v. Aaron Rodgers, Part II. Like their first meeting, this too will be in the frozen tundra of Lambeau Field, which hardly seems sporting.
Vs. SEATTLE: Dec 12, 1:05 p.m.,* FOX – By this point Seattle's quarterback could be Matt Hasselbeck, Charlie Whitehurst or even University of Washington's Jake Locker, if he gets his permission slip signed.
At SAN DIEGO: Dec 16, 5:20 p.m., NFL Network – I'd feel a lot better about this match-up if it was scheduled in January instead of December.
At ST. LOUIS: Dec 26, 10 a.m.,* FOX – Will Sam Bradford still be in one piece by this point? If so, will he be after?
Vs. ARIZONA: Jan 2, 1:15 p.m.,* FOX – Commission Roger Goodell hopes this game will be for the division title. The 49ers hope to be resting their starters in advance of a playoff game. I'll hope the internet is working in the press box.
*- Subject to change with NBC's Sunday Night Football "Flex" scheduling.