A few weeks ago, Arizona Cardinals defensive lineman Darnell Dockett shot out a tweet about how he was up at 5:30am every morning getting ready for the season. His reason? He attached a picture showing the scheduled Monday Night Football contest between the 49ers and Cardinals in Glendale on October 29.
It is safe to say the San Francisco 49ers will be playing with a large target on their back in 2012. They went into the 2011 season under the radar, even with the hiring of Coach Harbaugh. They came out of the season as a Super Bowl favorite for the coming season, which means everybody wants a piece of them. Even if other teams might not be "happy to see [the 49ers] on their schedule", the 49ers will be an opponent against whom they will be a little extra fired up.
Although the 49ers will have to deal with plenty of tough opponents in 2012, their run through the NFC West should not reveal any sort of newly inspired opponents. The other three teams have taken steps to improve in the offseason, but year in and year out the NFC provides some fairly compelling matchups. Even the Rams should be back in the mix, a year after going winless in divisional play.
Among the four NFC West teams, the 49ers kick off their divisional play the latest. The Cardinals and Seahawks square off to open the season. The Rams go back-to-back to kick off divisional play, facing the Seahawks in week four and the Cardinals in week five. The 49ers get divisional play going with back-to-back games versus the Seahawks and at the Cardinals week seven and eight.
The close of the season will be a wild one if there is anything resembling a close race in the division. The 49ers close the season at the Seahawks and home against the Cardinals while the Seahawks close with home games against the 49ers and Rams. The Cardinals and Rams only play divisional games the final week.
While the race could very well come down to the wire, the 49ers will have plenty of opportunities to put away a playoff spot before then. Arguably the most "important" stretch of the season is there run of five home games in seven weeks (with a bye mixed in). They don't have to sweep any specific stretch at this point, but they need to clean house during that run. Add in the one road game being at Arizona and they could do some serious damage to the schedule heading into the stretch run in the late fall. There are a lot of winnable games in there, and that could make or break the 49ers season.