Under Jim Harbaugh, the San Francisco 49ers have made it incredibly close to winning their sixth Lombardi Trophy in franchise history. In his first year with the 49ers, he took them to the NFC Championship, but mistakes on special teams doomed them. In his second year, he took them to the Super Bowl, where a comeback ultimately fell short and they fell to the Baltimore Ravens.
Could the 2013-14 season be the year they put it together and put up a complete effort in the Super Bowl so they don't have to rely on a comeback to get the win? It could be -- but they also have a tough regular season in front of them and nothing is guaranteed.
The NFC West has suddenly become the strongest division in the NFL, or close to it. The 49ers will have to contend with the Seattle Seahawks and St. Louis Rams, as both are expected to be playoff contenders. On top of that, the 49ers have a more difficult schedule this season, coming in at No. 9 in the NFL.
Here's a close look at San Francisco's 2013-14 schedule:
|1||Sept. 8||vs. Green Bay||4:25 p.m.||FOX|
|2||Sept. 15||@ Seattle||8:30 p.m.||NBC|
|3||Sept. 22||vs. Indianapolis||4:25 p.m.||CBS|
|4||Sept. 26||@ St. Louis||8:25 p.m.||NFL|
|5||Oct. 6||vs. Houston||8:30 p.m.||NBC|
|6||Oct. 13||vs. Arizona||4:25 p.m.||FOX|
|7||Oct. 20||@ Tennessee||4:05 p.m.||FOX|
|8||Oct. 27||@ Jacksonville||1 p.m.||FOX|
|10||Nov. 10||vs. Carolina||4:05 p.m.||FOX|
|11||Nov. 17||@ New Orleans||4:25 p.m.||FOX|
|12||Nov. 25||@ Washington||8:30 p.m.||ESPN|
|13||Dec. 1||vs. St. Louis||4:05 p.m.||FOX|
|14||Dec. 8||vs. Seattle||4:25 p.m.||FOX|
|15||Dec. 15||@ Tampa Bay||1 p.m.||FOX|
|16||Dec. 23||vs. Atlanta||8:30 p.m.||ESPN|
|17||Dec. 29||@ Arizona||4:25 p.m.||FOX|
Toughest out: Atlanta Falcons
San Francisco has some tough games, but against Atlanta on Monday Night Football will probably be the toughest. Matt Ryan and his Falcons almost stopped the 49ers from making it to the Super Bowl, and if the 49ers had to rely on that kind of comeback again, they probably will end up heading into their season finale without any kind of winning streak going on.
Sure, taking on the Seahawks and Rams in their stadiums will be hard, and tough outs against the Green Bay Packers and Houston Texans are on the schedule, but they're all at home and those two are early in the season. Atlanta will probably be at their best in primetime that week.
Must win: St. Louis Rams (away)
The 49ers cannot go 0-1-1 against the Rams again this season. They just can't. All credit to St. Louis for picking up the pieces and seemingly fielding a competitive team this coming season, but the 49ers need to concentrate on the Seattle Seahawks and finding a way to split that series. 49ers fans will put a 'W' in the column for San Francisco's home outing against St. Louis, but the 49ers absolutely need to win at the Edward Jones Dome this season as well.
It seems like the Rams are built to beat the 49ers. Losing to a divisional rival is demoralizing, though probably less so than a game wasted on a tie. Colin Kaepernick needs the confidence of beating the rival Rams early, especially with a return home to face the Texans and then fellow rival Arizona Cardinals that following week.
Don't overlook: New Orleans Saints
Drew Brees is still one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL, and though he frequently makes something out of nothing with his receivers, the Saints are still a great team. The 49ers have to play them on the road, and with the issues they are already having in their secondary, they could be caught off guard by the high-flying attack.
The worst thing the 49ers can do is assume that the Saints are past their prime, and assume that they're going to go in and once again outmuscle the Saints. Although San Francisco came away with a 10-point victory last season, it took a big injury and Alex Smith turning into some football-throwing machine built to destroy the Saints' Super Bowl chances for the 49ers to win in the playoffs two seasons ago. A shootout is not preferred.
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