In case you didn't know, the 49ers traveled a lot of miles last year, and look ready to travel a lot of miles this year. For the 49ers, Seahawks and Cardinals, the traveling is an issue that really won't be changing much in the near future. The two primary ways to improve the situation in any way would seem to be the addition of one or two franchises to Los Angeles (well, unless it's the Chargers and Raiders), and providing fewer 1pm ET start times on those cross-country trips.
Over at Grantland, Bill Barnwell took some time to break down how travel impacts teams. It was not exactly ground-breaking research, but it was still one more bit of insight into a tricky subject:
Does the spread in travel distances actually matter? It's hard to say. On one hand, it's easy to point to the successful teams in the AFC North and the mostly poor teams of the NFC West and suggest that friendly travel schedules have kept each of them in their respective corners, but there's just not overwhelming evidence in that direction. The correlation coefficient between miles traveled and wins is essentially zero, suggesting that one has nothing to do with producing the other.
While NFC West teams have had their share of struggles, the 49ers might be categorized as road warriors in 2011. They lost a divisional game at the Cardinals, but other than that, their only road loss was at the Baltimore Ravens after a short week coupled with ridiculous travel demands.
The 49ers won road games at Cincinnati, Philadelphia, Detroit and Washington. Divisional road wins over Seattle and St. Louis obviously count, but I wanted to focus more on the non-division road games. The 49ers found a way to go on the road and take care of business in spite of the miles. I don't know if the choice to stay in Youngstown was a key component of the win over Philadelphia, but the 49ers will do it again between their week three and week four games against the Vikings and Jets.
The 49ers win over Philadelphia saw the team fall behind early and come back late for the win. There is often concern about early starts leading to slow starts, which we saw against the Eagles. Does that mean the Youngstown trip didn't matter? Not necessarily. Time and schedule issues aside, you could argue this kind of road trip helped the 49ers "come together" as a team. That might be cliched and absolutely meaningless, but given how Coach Harbaugh operated over the course of the season, I'm willing to believe just about anything.
The 49ers have plenty of travel because they get to replace the NFC East road trip with the AFC East road trip. Apparently the team can't catch a break. The 49ers 2012 travel schedule features trips to the NFC North, AFC East and NFC South. Not quite ideal, but they'll just have to suck it up, I suppose. Here is the 49ers road schedule for 2012:
Week 1: @ Green Bay Packers - Sunday September 9, 1:25pm FOX
Week 3: @ Minnesota Vikings - Sunday September 23, 10:00am FOX
Week 4: @New York Jets - Sunday September 30, 10:00am FOX
Week 8: @ Arizona Cardinals - Monday October 29, 5:30pm ESPN
Week 12: @ New Orleans Saints - Sunday November 25, 1:25pm FOX
Week 13: @ St. Louis Rams - Sunday December 2, 10:00am FOX
Week 15: @ New England Patriots - Sunday December 16, 5:20pm NBC
Week 16: @ Seattle Seahawks - Sunday December 23, 1:25pm FOX