The 2010 NFL Season was one of high expectation for the San Francisco 49ers. The Niners were the chic pick to be the breakout team of the NFL. They were expected to not only win their division but also find success in the playoffs. The logic was that former head coach Mike Singletary, a disciplinarian, would get the most out of his players. Niners fans worldwide were eager for the season to start and watch this once-proud franchise return to glory. However, it was not meant to be. It took only a month to realize that the 2010 Niners were likely not going to turn their decade of misfortune around. The team started the season 0-5 and wound up with a 6-10 record. Through the course of the season, offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye was ousted in the opening weeks, Alex Smith and Troy Smith juggled for the starting QB position, and Mike Singletary was ousted with a game remaining on the schedule. This would lead to the front office making some changes as soon as the offseason commenced. Among them, Trent Baalke was named GM, and he brought in the highly-demanded Jim Harbaugh to replace Singletary as head coach. Due to the ongoing labor negotiations, teams have not been able to sign free agents, but that should not prevent the Niners from finding success in 2011, should there be a season.
This coming season, the Niners will have the 30th hardest schedule in the NFL. In other words, they will have the 3rd easiest schedule. This is based on the combined record of their opponents in the 2010 season. Personally, I don’t put much stock in that ranking. From one year to the next, teams can make drastic personnel changes that can change their culture from a losing to a winning one. The Niners’ expectations don’t appear to be as lofty as they were for the 2010 season. Nonetheless, here is a look at their 2011 schedule. Here is hoping that the 2011 season ends the Niners’ run at futility and is the start of their return to excellence.
In Week 1, the Niners will start their season at home against the Seattle Seahawks. Many of you will remember that this was the same matchup that opened the 2010 season for the Niners. The Niners played an embarrassing game and showed no passion. This year’s opening matchup should be a heck of a lot better though. To begin with, it pits Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll against his counterpart in Harbaugh. College football followers will know what I am talking about. While at Stanford, Harbaugh dismantled Carroll’s USC team which lead to an interesting post-game handshake. The Niners should keep in mind that had they won their first game against the Seahawks last season, they, and not the Seahawks, would have been the NFC West champions.
Week 2, the Niners will once again be at home, this time against the Dallas Cowboys. The Cowboys had a rough start in 2010, and they will not look to replicate that in 2011. Niners beware. Cowboys coach Jason Garrett will be looking for his team to have a hot start and will try to make the Niners one of their victims early in the season. The following week, the Niners will make their way to Cincinnati to face the Bengals. That has the potential to be a really big game for both teams. I mean, it is likely that current Bengals QB Carson Palmer could be at the helm for the Niners depending on how things play out once free agency opens up and trades can be made between teams. The Niners will follow that game with a matchup against Michael Vick and the Philadelphia Eagles. The same that was said about the Bengals game can be said for the Eagles as well. While unlikely, nothing in the NFL should surprise its fans. It would not be unconceivable to have Kevin Kolb as our QB, but that remains fodder for another day.
The Niners return home for a Week 5 matchup against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Last season, the Niners were shut out at home against the Bucs, losing 21-0. The Bucs do have a formidable young group of players, but I believe that the Niners are a better team. In fact, had the Niners had some semblance of competence in the coaching staff, they would have beaten a team such as the Bucs last season. Nonetheless, this year’s game for the Bucs against the Niners will not be a walk-in-the-park for Josh Freeman and crew. Week 6 will see the Niners at Ford Field against the improving Detroit Lions. The Lions will be a feisty team and the Niners will need to bring their “A” game to Detroit before they head off to their Week 7 “Bye”.
Following their off week, the Niners will be hosting the Cleveland Browns. The Browns had a relatively good 2010 season and it will be interesting to see if they continue to turn things around this upcoming season. Their GM, Mike Holmgren, is slowly building this team into a winner. The Niners will then round out the first half of the season in the nation’s capital against the Washington Redskins. The Redskins had a turbulent 2010 season and things look as if they will remain bleak in Washington for some time to come.
(A glance on the second half of the schedule will come soon. In this first half of the season, the Niners will play an even 4 games at home and on the road. They will not be featured in any primetime games during the first part of 2011.)