The San Francisco 49ers are headed to New Orleans this weekend to face the Saints. The NFL releases the final list of next season opponents as soon as the previous regular season ends. When the 49ers released that list this year, it included the Saints, and the most common question was, "Why does it seem like the 49ers have to play at New Orleans every year?"
When the NFL sets the schedule each year, there is a basic formula in place. A team will face each of its division-mates twice, account for six games. They will then face a full division from the opposing conference. That rotates each season, so you play the same division every four years. That accounts for four games. A team will face a full division of teams from the same conference. That also rotates each year, so you play the same division every three years (since you don't rotate in your own division). That accounts for four games. The final two games are one opponent from each of the two same conference divisions not included already. Those two opponents are the teams that finished in the same position in their own division.
This year for the 49ers, their schedule was set as follows:
6 NFC West games
4 AFC West games
4 NFC East games
1 NFC South team on the road (second place finisher)
1 NFC North team at home (second place finisher)
Last season, the Carolina Panthers and New Orleans Saints fought down to the wire in the NFC South. The Panthers won the division, and the Saints finished second. Thus, the 49ers faced the Saints instead of the Panthers. In 2013, the 49ers faced the fourth NFC South teams, with the Saints game set as one of the two road games. In 2012, the 49ers faced the Saints in a similar fashion to this year, as the same standing in their division. Some will complain about 2012 given that the 49ers could have hosted New Orleans, but from what I understand, the road and home games are set a couple years in advance.
Speaking of which, we already know some aspects of the 49ers 2015 schedule. We don't know dates, but we have a good idea of their opponents. Here is how their 2015 slate of opponents will break down.
Home: Arizona Cardinals, Seattle Seahawks, St. Louis Rams, Green Bay Packers, Minnesota Vikings, Baltimore Ravens, Cincinnati Bengals, NFC South
Away: Arizona Cardinals, Seattle Seahawks, St. Louis Rams, Chicago Bears, Detroit Lions, Cleveland Browns, Pittsburgh Steelers, NFC East