Breaking Down the San Francisco 49ers Schedule for the 2021 NFL Season

Rohan Chakravarthi
May 24, 2021 at 12:00 PM0


The 2021 NFL schedule was released on May 12th, and the 49ers got to see which week they will play which opponent.

While they already knew the selection of teams and their home and away opponents, San Francisco finally found out its official schedule for the upcoming NFL season.

The schedule was both kind and mean to the 49ers, as they got the easiest strength of schedule in their division and tied for 19th overall, a metric determined by the projected wins for opponents, but have to travel the most miles of any NFL team at over 28,000 miles, and the most net miles, which take each team's total miles and subtracts its opponent's miles traveled for home games.

With that said, let's break down the full schedule for the 2021 season.

Favorable Start


Despite being on the road to start the season, the 49ers have a favorable start, beginning the year at Detroit and Philadelphia in Weeks 1 and 2.

Detroit is in the middle of a rebuild after trading away longtime starter Matthew Stafford, and Philadelphia is trending towards a new start as well, handing the keys to young quarterback Jalen Hurts.

Still, Detroit lacks offensive firepower after losing its top two receiving options, Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones, to free agency. In addition, its defense, mainly its linebackers and secondary, is either inexperienced or below average.

Philadelphia also lacks offensive firepower, with one solid option at receiver in rookie Devonta Smith as Zach Ertz's future is unknown. It also lacks in the secondary opposite Darius Slay and is starting a young, but below average quarterback in Jalen Hurts.

A fully healthy 49ers roster should be able to overpower the two teams and use the games as fuel to begin the season with some momentum before facing their challenging opponents.

The Challenge


After two favorable road games, the 49ers come home to two difficult matchups.

In Week 3, San Francisco faces Green Bay in a Sunday Night showdown, in Week 4, it takes on the Seattle Seahawks, and in Week 5, it travels to Arizona to face the Cardinals.

These matchups will be the first test to this 49ers squad, who will be eager to prove itself after an injury-riddled 2020 campaign.

There are many questions with the Green Bay Packers surrounding star quarterback Aaron Rodgers, so it will be intriguing to see how that saga plays out as it would almost certainly affect their team for the upcoming season.

The Seattle Seahawks lost top cornerback Shaquill Griffin in free agency, but strengthened their weak offensive line with guard Gabe Jackson.

Arizona was one of the stronger teams in free agency, adding defensive end J.J. Watt, wide receiver A.J. Green, cornerback Malcolm Butler, and running back James Conner. Still, its offensive line, secondary, and defensive tackle remain holes for the team.

These three back-to-back-to-back games will give the 49ers their first taste of playoff opponents and a chance to gain some momentum heading into their early bye week.

If the 49ers can pull out two of these games, they will be in good shape heading into the bye week.

Early Bye Week


Rather than their late Week 11 bye week like last season, the 49ers are getting an early bye week this year.

This has both positive and negative implications for the 49ers.

The break will come at a handy time for the team as it will be coming off three tough opponents in Green Bay, Seattle, and Arizona, and a chance to rest before another tough stretch after its break.

However, this may not be good news for the 49ers fans eager to see Trey Lance as Week 6 would likely be too early to integrate him into the offense and give him that week of preparation in which rookies are normally integrated. Also, the schedule after the bye week makes it an unlikely appearance, because head coach Kyle Shanahan may want to ease in Lance, rather than throw him to the wolves with tougher opponents.

This could be good or bad for the 49ers as the early week could give a good chance to replenish their bodies after the beginning stretch, but could prove painful with a longer season, and therefore a longer second stretch where they may tire out.

Second Tough Stretch


After the bye week, the 49ers face their second tough stretch of the season, facing the Colts, Bears, Cardinals, and Rams in consecutive weeks.

Granted, three of those four games are at home. Still, all four of these opponents will be challenging.

Indianapolis traded for quarterback Carson Wentz to complement its elite defense this offseason, and will be coming off an easier matchup in Houston, given that Deshaun Watson remains away from the team at that point. While the 49ers will have a renewed sense of energy after their bye week, the Colts will be another tough opponent to begin this second stretch.

After a Sunday night showdown against the Colts at home, the 49ers will travel to Chicago for a matchup with the Bears. The Bears will be coming off multiple tough matchups with Green Bay and Tampa Bay, but their elite defense will always keep them in games.

Then comes the second matchup with Arizona. The 49ers will travel back home this time, and will face a Cardinals team coming off a home matchup with Green Bay. Being a potential playoff team, the Cardinals will be another tough matchup along this stretch.

To complete this second tough stretch, the 49ers will remain at home in their first of two matchups against the new-look Los Angeles Rams with quarterback Matthew Stafford. The matchup will be on Monday night, giving the 49ers another rest day before a crucial matchup.

The 49ers should aim to win at least two of these four tough matchups to put themselves in good position for the remaining part of the season.

Second Favorable Stretch


After a two-game home stretch, the 49ers will travel to Jacksonville, before coming back home to face Minnesota.

In a likely close playoff race in the NFC, these two matchups against projected mediocre teams should be seen as must-win games in order for the 49ers to give themselves a chance at a playoff push.

The wins would also present as momentum heading into a Sunday night Week 13 game in Seattle against the Seahawks.

Crucial Game


Perhaps one of the most crucial games for the 49ers comes in Week 13 in this matchup against the Seahawks. In a game with likely division implications, the 49ers will have to buckle in on the road against their division rivals to help themselves in the playoff picture.

The game also marks another traveling week in which the 49ers are going back and forth from a visiting arena to home and back.

With all four division teams seeking playoff spots, in-division tiebreakers could hold a significant advantage, making this specific matchup a crucial game.

The Last Stretch


Following the matchup with their division rivals, the Seattle Seahawks, in Week 13, the 49ers have a rollercoaster of matchups to end the season.

They have a variety of home and road games, opponents of mixed talent, a Thursday night game, and a showdown with their division challengers, the Los Angeles Rams, to end the season.

Week 14 presents them with another road game, this time against the Cincinnati Bengals, which was the seventeenth game added to their schedule.

While rookie Joe Burrow was a sensation last year, this roster is still miles away from competing, with a lacking defense and an average offensive line at best.

Week 15 brings the 49ers back home for a showdown with the Atlanta Falcons and new head coach Arthur Smith. While the Falcons have significant offensive firepower, they are haunted by their lack of talent on the defensive side of the game, presenting the 49ers with another favorable, but still intriguing matchup.

Week 16 seems to be another crucial, tough game for the 49ers, as they have to travel once again to face the Tennessee Titans on a Thursday night. The likely poor weather conditions and the short week are obstacles for the 49ers, making this matchup another crucial one nearing the playoffs. To make matters worse, the 49ers just traveled the prior week to Cincinnati and Seattle before that, making this short stretch a tiring travel period.

Week 17 presents the 49ers with another favorable matchup as they travel back home to face the new-look Houston Texans with new head coach David Culley. The Texans are a team that is taking a step back into that rebuilding phase, especially without Deshaun Watson, and the prolonged rest following a Thursday game should give the 49ers more energy in preparation for the matchup.

Then, the 49ers wrap up their year with a division showdown in Los Angeles against the Rams. Just two years ago, the 49ers held a similar game against the Seahawks, which they won to gain the division pennant and the higher seeding in the playoffs. With two playoff-hungry teams, this game could prove to have similar implications and will be an entertaining end to the year.

Observations on the Schedule


The 49ers ranking at first for miles traveled is something not to be understated. There are many stretches over the season during which the team plays a game, then has to travel either back home or on the road, then travel back. In fact, the team does not have a single three-game home or road stretch.

In Week 7, the 49ers play the Indianapolis Colts at home, before traveling to face the Chicago Bears, and then coming back home for a matchup with the Arizona Cardinals. This three week stretch involves a significant amount of travel, which adds another burden, especially when facing tough teams in the run to the playoffs.

Then, in Week 10, the 49ers face the Rams at home, then travel to face the Jacksonville Jaguars, then return back home to face off against the Minnesota Vikings, before traveling again to Seattle, traveling to Cincinnati, and wrapping the stretch by returning back home to face the Falcons.

This six-week stretch of back and forth travel is especially gruesome, and could hurt the team, even when playing mediocre opponents because of the toll on players' bodies when traveling at such a high rate.

To cap off the season, the 49ers face similar problems with a trip to Tennessee, a home game against Houston, and a trip to Los Angeles.

The Tennessee game is especially dreadful, given that it comes on a short week AND the team has to travel after weeks of constant flying.

Still, the schedule has its positives, with the strength of teams being weaker compared to their division rivals. This fact makes those division games much more important, and they could ultimately determine playoff seeding and eliminations.
The opinions within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.


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