49ers 2012 Opponents: Packers, Saints, Patriots Loom Large

The 2011 NFL season is a long way from completion, but we already have a good idea of the 49ers 2012 opponents. The league does not release the schedule until next spring, but we can still take a look at who the 49ers will be playing next season (thanks for confirmation from 49ers.com). And thanks to a strong 2011 season, as well as just the quirks of the scheduling process, the 49ers will be tested quite a bit next season.

As it currently stands, the NFC West faces the AFC East and the NFC North in 2011. That means teams like the Packers, Lions, Patriots and Jets are all on the schedule. Additionally, the 49ers get one game against the NFC East and one game against the NFC South. Their opponent in those games is determined based on standings. Since the 49ers are going to finish in first in the NFC West, they get the first place team from the East and South. The Saints haven't officially clinched, but with a two-game lead and three to play, they are likely going to clinch. The East will be either the Giants or the Cowboys, although technically Philly is still alive.

I've posted the home and away opponents, with the NFC East and South division winner still technically up in the air. The 49ers will have their share of weak opponents, but with games against the Patriots, Packers, Saints, Lions and Jets, among others, it is going to be a difficult schedule.

Given the 49ers 2011 performance, it also likely means a significant slate of primetime games. They can't all be primetime, but if 49ers-Lions is not SNF or MNF I would be shocked. The television schedule will also depend in part on how the season closes and who wins the Super Bowl. Depending on what the NFC title game looks like, I could see a Packers-Saints repeat or a Packers-49ers NFL Thursday season opener.

HOME: Packers, Vikings, Dolphins, Bills, Giants/Cowboys/Eagles, Rams, Cardinals, Seahawks

AWAY: Lions, Bears, Saints/Falcons, Patriots, Jets, Rams, Cardinals, Seahawks

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