Now that we have been treated to the climatic release of the San Francisco 49ers pre-season schedule, we can tear it apart and break down all the exciting things awaiting us just a few short months away. After all, it's not like we have anything else newsworthy going on, am I right?
Here's a look at their schedule and what each game could provide us, outside of the bevy of backups and non-roster types (all times Pacific).
Week One: August 7, 4:30 p.m. at Baltimore Ravens
Harbaugh Bowl III will come with much less on the line compared to its two preceding matchups. The first iteration of these brothers battling came on a Thanksgiving, where the younger Harbaugh was none too pleased about going across the country. The second, well, we know what happened and will just move on, thank you very much.
The Ravens had a down year as defending Super Bowl champions, splitting their schedule with an 8-8 record and missing the playoffs. They of course lost some key components from their trophy-winning squad due to retirement, trades and free agency losses.
They hold the 17th overall pick in the first round of the draft, one in which compensatory picks have bailed them out. They were set to only have four selections before comp picks brought them up to eight total. Still, they're going to have to get a lot of bang for their buck with their first four selections inside the top 100 picks as they have some ground to make up if they want to be title contenders again.
Being the first week of pre-season, the Ravens not likely having any sparkly new toys and being cross-country for our boys, this will probably feel a lot like a let's-just-get-it-over-with-and-leave type game.
Week Two: August 17, 1 p.m. vs Denver Broncos
You know, deep down inside I knew the Seahawks would beat the Broncos. But my running joke to my friends -- I'm trapped in Seattle, as you may know -- was that all they had to do was beat a top three all-time quarterback. Foot firmly inserted in my mouth aside, Peyton Manning is obviously still amongst the game's elite.
While this is only a second week pre-season affair, it will still be a good test for a 49ers defense that will be without NaVorro Bowman, and perhaps Aldon Smith. It's nothing to stress about, or over-analyze, but it could provide some key takeaways for the coaching staff as they try to get things all tuned up for the regular season. While we often minimize the pre-season, I'd sign up for a couple series against Peyton Manning as an aid for the defense any day.
Oh yeah, and we'll be playing in this nifty new little ballpark.
Week Three: August 24, 1:00 PM vs San Diego
Nationally televised on FOX, this will likely be the game to want to watch the most. Often times, the third pre-season game is the one that features the starters on the field for the longest, and gives us an idea of what the coaching staff is planning on doing with the team.
The Chargers have seven picks in the draft, with only three of them in the first 90 -- one in each of the first three rounds. So we'll be looking at a lot of familiar faces, with the exception of a few additions and subtractions.
They were a playoff team a season ago, going 9-7 in a tough AFC West that sent three teams to the dance. Using yards per game as a barometer, they had the fifth most potent offense in the league in 2013, with the fourth ranking pass attack. For that reason, this could be an even bigger test for a Niners defense -- as opposed to the week two Broncos matchup -- that will be missing some guys and working a new secondary that includes one or two rookies.
Week Four: August 28, 5 p.m. at Houston Texans
The exhibition schedule closes out in Houston, against the only team on the schedule the Niners haven't faced in a Super Bowl.
The Texans were pretty lousy in 2013 -- evidenced by holding the first overall draft pick -- but are only a year removed from a pretty strong season. There are still some very talented players on this roster, and the team has four picks in the first 100 of the draft -- five in the first 135 -- so they could fill quite a few holes. There's even good reason to see them move down out of that first overall pick. Already with 11 overall picks, there could be some interesting shuffling in the draft order if Houston indeed moves down.
What does it mean for the this matchup? Probably not a lot. Maybe we'll see a dose of whoever their top overall selection is, but being the last pre-season game, we may not see them at all. The most exciting thing might just be the players getting to head home after an unusually travel-heavy pre-season.
All in all, I like this schedule. The travel kind of stinks, but these are four teams that could really provide the 49ers with some things to build off of. While staying close to home to face the Raiders was nice while it lasted, how much was there for the coaching staff to take from those games?