The NFL gave the 49ers a schedule with a few quirks. It is nothing they can’t handle, and they are quite capable of handling it with the sort of ease that makes them clear Super Bowl favorites when the calendar hits January.
Nevertheless, they have the sort of schedule that could cause them an uneasy moment or two.
In late September, the Niners have the unenviable task of playing at St. Louis just four days after hosting Indianapolis in San Francisco. Fourteen of the 17 Thursday games in 2013 pit teams either in the same time zone or just one time zone apart, with the 49ers, the Ravens (who travel to Denver in Week One) and Raiders (at Dallas on Thanksgiving) the exceptions.
Later in the campaign, the 49ers play 4-of-5 games on the road, with a bye and home game vs. Carolina sandwiched between contests at Tennessee (Week Seven), at Jacksonville in London (Week Eight), New Orleans (Week 11) and Washington (Week 12). The New Orleans and Washington matchups look the sternest tests of this four-pack of road trips, though the 49ers already have road wins against both opponents in Jim Harbaugh’s tenure.
A challenging road game could come in Week 15, when the 49ers play at Tampa seven days after hosting rival Seattle. If the 49ers are drained after a slugfest with the Seahawks — who are exceptionally skilled and major contenders in their own right — then Buccaneers could give them trouble.
The Niners’ season finale at Arizona also appears tricky. The previous Monday, the 49ers host the Falcons in a game that could be material to the NFC playoff picture. The Cardinals can be tough at home and figure to be up for the game whether contending or playing out the string.
Of course, by Week 17, the 49ers could be resting starters, the NFC West title again in their grasp. If that’s the case, they will have aced some tests lesser teams would have flunked.