49ers’ brutal 2012 schedule

The 49ers will pay the price next season for playing so well this season.

The NFL announced the opponents for the 49ers next season, and it’s safe to say that it will be a much tougher road to the playoffs in 2012.

In addition to playing their NFC West rivals, the Niners will play all the teams in the NFC North and the AFC East.

That means marquee matchups against the Packers, Lions, Patriots and Jets. The 49ers will also have to play the winner of the NFC East (either Dallas or the New York Giants, depending on this weekend’s winner-take-all showdown in NYC) and the Saints, who won the NFC South on Monday.

One of the few things Jim Harbaugh complained about to the media this season was his team’s recurring travel to the Eastern Time zone this season, including a visit to Baltimore on a short Thansgiving week.

NFL officials didn’t hear his complaints. The 49ers will play at Green Bay, Minnesota, New England, New York and New Orleans. And most of those could be primetime, nationally televised games.

On the bright side, the Niners’ home schedule should be relatively easy. They will host non-division games against Detroit, Chicago, Buffalo, Miami and either the Giants or Dallas.

On paper, this feels like an absolutely brutal schedule. With at least five playoff teams on the schedule (six if the Jets squeak in), if the 49ers want to be the best next season, they will have to beat the best.