Coming off a fourth-place finish in 2020, we've known for some time now that the 49ers have a very favorable schedule for the upcoming 2021 season. The third-easiest, in fact, according to ESPN's Football Power Index. And their schedule surely would be even more favorable if the 49ers didn't play in the toughest division in the NFL.
But as brutal of a gauntlet as the NFC West projects to be, the 49ers nonetheless are set up the pile up victories in 2021. And there are some additional hidden advantages in the non-divisional portion of San Francisco's 2021 schedule that should increase the likelihood of that happening.
Though the 49ers open the season with back-to-back road games against the Detroit Lions and Philadelphia Eagles, no team in the league is a bigger favorite in Week 1 than San Francisco, and barring something unexpected, the 49ers should be favored again in Week 2.
They'll then return to the Bay Area for their home opener in Week 3, and that's when the hidden advantages start to present themselves.
The 49ers will host the Green Bay Packers at Levi's Stadium on "Sunday Night Football" in Week 3. That projects to be one of San Francisco's toughest games of the entire season. However, it can't hurt that the Packers will be coming off a short week. The 49ers should have a slight rest advantage, as Green Bay plays the Lions on "Monday Night Football" in Week 2.
In continuing that theme, San Francisco will have a much more significant rest advantage in its next non-divisional game. The 49ers have their bye in Week 6 before hosting the Indianapolis Colts on "Sunday Night Football" in Week 7. The Colts, who already are fairly beat up entering the season, have a very difficult schedule leading into that matchup.
The next week, the 49ers head to Chicago to take on the Bears. That doesn't project to be a cakewalk by any means, but again, San Francisco should have a residual rest advantage from the bye. The Bears, meanwhile, will be coming off a brutal two-game stretch, having faced the Packers at home and the reigning Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers on the road in the two weeks prior.
The 49ers' next non-divisional game comes in Week 11, and represents one of the only two instances in which they'll have a non-divisional game immediately following an NFC West matchup. After hosting the Rams on "Monday Night Football" in Week 10, the 49ers will head to Jacksonville to take on the Jaguars in Week 11. San Francisco will be at a rest disadvantage in that one, but the Jaguars are widely expected to be one of the worst teams in the NFL this season. And that should provide the 49ers with a relative advantage the following week.
In Week 12, the 49ers will host the Minnesota Vikings. Whereas the 49ers will be at home and coming off a matchup with the lowly Jaguars, the Vikings will be coming off a very difficult four-game stretch in Weeks 8-11, with games against the Dallas Cowboys (home), Baltimore Ravens (road), Los Angeles Chargers (road) and Packers (home).
After the matchup with the Vikings, the 49ers will head out on their only other set of back-to-back road games outside of Weeks 1 and 2. The battle in Seattle against the Seahawks on "Sunday Night Football" in Week 13 has the potential to be the NFL game of the year, and could very well be the toughest game on San Francisco's entire schedule.
The 49ers follow that up with their only other non-divisional game that immediately follows an NFC West matchup, but just as in the other instance, it comes against what is widely expected to be one of the worst teams in the league. The 49ers likely will be heavily favored in Week 14 against the Cincinnati Bengals, who will be coming off consecutive home games against the Pittsburgh Steelers and Chargers.
In Week 15, the 49ers return home to face the visiting Atlanta Falcons, who aren't expected to be a playoff team. The Falcons will be coming off consecutive divisional games at the Buccaneers and at home against the Carolina Panthers before making the cross-country trip to play at Levi's Stadium, which is unlikely to increase their chances of pulling off the upset.
The 49ers won't have any hidden advantages on the road against the Tennessee Titans on "Thursday Night Football" in Week 16, which very well could turn out to be the 49ers' only non-divisional game in which they're the underdog. Consider this the outlier. However, things balance out the following week, when San Francisco returns home to face the lowly Houston Texans in Week 17.
Don't be surprised if the 49ers are favored by more points in that game than any other contest on their schedule. In addition to having a rest advantage over Houston, the Texans might be the front-runners to land the No. 1 overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft.
The 49ers close out the regular season on the road against the Los Angeles Rams, which has the potential to determine the winner of the NFC West, and the degree of difficulty within the division cannot be overstated. The NFC West is by far the toughest division in the NFL, and consequently, there surely will be some hidden disadvantages in the non-divisional portion of San Francisco's schedule, as well.
That said, outside of Week 16 at the Titans, there are numerous things within that portion of the 49ers' schedule that should work in their favor. And if they're able to take advantage of them, the wins should pile up.