There are a few things we know the day after the 49ers’ regular-season schedule was released.
First, the defending NFC champions will open the season against the Arizona Cardinals at Levi’s Stadium on Sept. 13.
Second, the 49ers have a tough road to get back to the Super Bowl. Based on opponents’ records in 2019, the Niners have the fourth-most difficult strength of schedule in the NFL. Opponents in 2020 had a 134-120-2 record in 2019, a .527 winning percentage. Only the Patriots (.537), Jets (.533) and Dolphins (.529) rank higher.
Also, San Francisco is set to travel about 4,000 more miles than it did in 2019, at about 29,700.
And, as ESPN.com’s Nick Wagoner noted, the 49ers’ success in 2020 could come down to how well they fare during a five-week span from Oct. 18 through Nov. 15 (just before a bye week) that includes four playoff contenders from 2019 and a longtime rival.
In that stretch, the 49ers start by hosting the Rams, traveling to New England and Seattle in consecutive weeks, coming home to play Green Bay and then getting back on the road to visit the Saints. After the bye, they then travel to Los Angeles to meet the Rams again.
But, 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan says he doesn’t put too much stock in what the schedule shows in May, five months before that part of the schedule begins.
“That’s the obvious, that stretch right there,” Shanahan acknowledged in an interview on the NFL Network Thursday night. “I used to do that a lot when I first got into the NFL. I would (look at the schedule like), ‘All right, this team’s real good. This team’s not as good’ and you go through all that. And then you get into the season and you learn that half the stuff year-to-year flips.
“So if it’s after Week 4, who knows what team you’re going to have compared to Week 1 when injuries happen. I rarely, through experience, look at how many tough games you have in a row because it changes year-to-year.”
That certainly was the case for the 49ers themselves in 2019. They went 4-12 in 2018 and hardly were on anybody’s radar going into 2019, yet went 13-3, won the NFC title and almost won the Super Bowl.
In 2020, they’ll be a target on every opponent’s schedule.