With the NFL releasing the 2014 schedules for all 32 NFL teams, it was the San Francisco 49ers who I believe came out winners. Despite dealing with the No. 4 ranked strength of schedule, I see the Niners not only finishing with a better record than last season (12-4) but also reclaiming the NFC West in the process.
A task easier said than done, as the Niners need to play seven teams with winning records in 2013 including the Seattle Seahawks (13-3), Arizona Cardinals (10-6), Philadelphia Eagles (10-6), Kansas City Chiefs (11-5), Denver Broncos (13-3), New Orleans Saints (11-5), and San Diego Chargers (9-7), it will be no cakewalk by any means. However, I believe the 49ers will prevail if they can remain relatively healthy and stick to what they do best which is imposing their will down in the trenches on both sides of the ball.
When evaluating their schedule, I see the 49ers storming out of the gates to a 5-2 record before they hit their bye in Week 8. Starting with their season opening away game against the Dallas Cowboys, the 49ers will need to run the ball while keeping QB Tony Romo off the field. If they can win the time of possession and protect an early lead they should win in convincing fashion, as 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh has yet to lose on opening day with a perfect 3-0 record. It will be that momentum that carries them into their Week 8 bye as they will likely go on multiple two-game winning streaks during that span.
Don’t be surprised if Eagles upset 49ers at home as the past two NFC East teams to do so b4 bye wk are Cowboys (2011) and NY Giants (2012)
— Ryan Sakamoto (@SakamotoRyan) April 24, 2014
A span that features the 49ers playing three home games, Harbaugh’s team has earned one of the best home records before they hit their bye week as they boast an 8-3 record since 2011 while outscoring their opponents 300-179. And if you are wondering which three teams will play first at Levi’s Stadium, they are none other than the Bears, Eagles, and Chiefs. And after evaluating their schedule, I see the 49ers being upset by the Eagles as Harbaugh has yet to field a perfect home-record before their Bye Week as they lost to the Dallas Cowboys 27-24, New York Giants 26-3 and Indianapolis Colts 27-7 the last three seasons. Ironically, two of those losses came from the NFC East, so you see where my logic lies.
As for the three away games that feature the Cardinals, Rams and Broncos, I see the lone away loss coming at the hands of the defending AFC Champion Broncos as the prime time game will be featured on Sunday Night Football. And with Harbaugh boasting a 13-4-1 record against the NFC West, you can be sure he will take care of business early as he swept both the Rams and Cardinals last season, leaving the 49ers with a 5-2 record heading into their Week 8 Bye.
And what about the defending Super Bowl Champion Seattle Seahawks? Their schedule is unforgiving to say the least as they kickoff the season playing three 2013 playoff teams before heading to their Week 4 bye. Those three teams that include the Packers, Chargers, and Broncos will all be looking to dethrone the Seahawks, and in all likelihood, I see the at least one of them doing that as I see the Seahawks starting with a 2-1 record.
From there the Seahawks have a pretty lenient schedule as they should have a streak of wins from Weeks 5 to 7 as they derail the Washington Redskins, Dallas Cowboys, and St. Louis Rams moving to a 5-1 record and neck and neck with the 49ers. However, that’s where it stops, as the Seahawks face an uphill battle as I predict them to lose at least five of their next nine games including losses to the Carolina Panthers, Chiefs, 49ers, Eagles, and Cardinals (four of five playoff teams). It will send the team in chaos as they now hold a 9-6 record while losing their NFC West crown as they finish the regular season by beating St. Louis at home with a 10-6 record.
The Niners who will be fresh off their Week 8 bye, should have another winning-streak of at least six games for the third time in four seasons, as they beat the Rams, New Orleans Saints, Giants, Redskins, Seahawks, and Oakland Raiders. The winning-streak would then put them in command of the NFC West as they would now hold an 11-2 record before ending that streak with a loss to the Seahawks, bringing down their record to 11-3. The 49ers would go on and with their final two games at home against the Chargers and Cardinals as the 49ers are 5-1 under Harbaugh in their final two regular season games, finishing with a 13-3 record while reclaiming the NFC West crown and sending the Seahawks back to the bottom of the totem pole.
All of this is speculation and many factors play into this scenario such as the NFL Draft and injuries, but if I was placing my bets today, I would pick the 49ers right now to not only win the NFC West but represent the NFC in this year’s Super Bowl.