A year ago at this time, the San Francisco 49ers were just another also-ran in the NFL.
No recent winning seasons, no star power, no chance -- or so the thinking went. When the 2011 league schedule was released, the Niners were penciled in for just two primetime games.
Coach Jim Harbaugh even complained early in the season that his Niners weren’t getting enough national attention.
That certainly won’t be the case in 2012.
Following a 13-3 season and a near trip to the Super Bowl, San Francisco is one of the league’s must-see teams.
When the NFL schedule was released Tuesday, San Francisco was given five primetime slots – the maximum allowed.
After the 49ers open the season with a five-star matchup against the Packers at Lambeau Field the afternoon of Sunday, Sept. 9, they’ll return home to Candlestick Park for their first night game against the Detroit Lions, a 5:20 p.m. start on NBC – a rematch from last season, when 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh and Lions coach Jim Schwartz got into a tiff on the field after San Francisco had pulled out a win.
Other night games for the 49ers are an Oct. 18 Thursday match at home vs. Seattle; an Oct. 29 Monday match at Arizona; a Monday, Nov. 19 game against the visiting Bears; and a Sunday, Dec. 16 game at New England.
The Bay Area News Group’s Cam Inman reported the Niners are excited about the challenges and exposure.
“Everybody likes to play primetime games and have that exposure and pressure that comes with those games,” Niners tackle Joe Staley said on 95.7 The Game Tuesday, Inman reported. “After last year, I think we’ll have an opportunity to showcase our team to a national audience this year.”
The 49ers’ five primetime slots this season will be the most the team has had since 1999, Inman reports.
The Niners made sure to keep their entire defense intact this offseason, and they’ll need it. The schedule this season pits the team against the five quarterbacks who threw for the most yards in the NFL last season, notes Matthew Barrows of the Sacramento Bee – including the first two games of the season.
The first, of course, is the Packers’ Aaron Rodgers in Game 1. The others: Detroit’s Matthew Stafford (Week 2), Giants’ Eli Manning (Week 6), New Orleans’ Drew Brees (Week 12) and New England’s Tom Brady (Week 15).
The 49ers’ schedule has a couple of other quirks: they open with three games against NFC North teams (the Vikings are Game 3), and the team has just one road game from Weeks 5 through 11 (with a bye on Nov. 4).
They’ll have to finish the season strong on the road, with two of three games away from home: at New England on Dec. 16 and at Seattle Dec. 23 before the finale at Candlestick against Arizona on Dec. 30.