49ers’ schedule is a killer

The 49ers’ reward — or punishment, depending on how you look at it — for a great 2011 season is a hellacious 2012 schedule.

There are very few cupcakes on this schedule. If the 49ers make another deep run in the playoffs, they will have earned it.

ESPN calculated 2012 strength of schedule based on 2011 records. According to their tabulations, the 49ers have the 7th easiest schedule. My eyes see a completely different picture.

Earlier this year, we learned the 49ers will have to get on a plane and travel to Green Bay, New England, New Orleans and the New York Jets.

That game against the Packers? Yeah, it’s on September 9, the first week of the season. What a way to open the season. The Packers finished with the best record in 2011 and are favorites to take it all this year.

The 49ers head to New England on December 16. The Patriots, lest you forget, made the Super Bowl last season. And December in Foxboro? That game has icy potential.

The 49ers travel to New Orleans on November 25. The Saints may not have a coaching staff, but they have Drew Brees. In case you forgot, he shattered the the single-season passing record last season.

And the Jets? Two words. Tebow Time. The 49ers get to take on Tebow and the Jets on September 30 in the Big Apple.

And that doesn’t include trips to Minnesota (September 23) and Seattle (December 23), hostile territory for visiting teams. On October 29, the 49ers travel to Arizona, and St. Louis on December 2.

The home schedule isn’t a walk in the park, either.

The New York Football Giants are scheduled to come to town for a rematch of the NFL Championship game on October 14. The Giants have lost a ton of talent this offseason, including two defections to San Francisco, Mario Manningham and Brandon Jacobs. But they return a core group that has won two Super Bowls.

All eyes will be on the head coaches when the Detroit Lions visit the 49ers on September 16, but those eyes should be on two elite players on the Lions offense: Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson.

And don’t overlook the matchup with Buffalo on October 7. The Bills signed Mario Williams, one of the best defensive linemen in the NFL. He will terrorize Alex Smith all game long.

The full schedule:

  • September 9  at Green Bay, 1:15 p.m.
  • September 16 vs. Detroit, 5:20 p.m.
  • September 23 at Minnesota, 10 a.m.
  • September 30 at New York Jets, 10 a.m.
  • October 7 vs. Bills, 1:15 p.m.
  • October 14 vs. Giants, 1:15 p.m.
  • October 18 vs. Seattle, 5:20 p.m.
  • October 29 at Arizona, 5:30 p.m.
  • November 11 vs. Rams, 1:15 p.m.
  • November 19 vs. Chicago, 5:30 p.m.
  • November 25 at New Orleans, 1:15 p.m.
  • December 2 at St. Louis, 10 a.m.
  • December 9 vs. Miami, 1:05 p.m.
  • December 16 at New England, 5:20 p.m.
  • December 23 at Seattle, 1:15 p.m.
  • December 30 vs. Arizona, 1:15 p.m.

Don’t let the numbers fool you, the 49ers face a tough path back to the playoffs. But they have made improvements to a team that came within a couple possessions of reaching the Super Bowl.