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49ers' 2020 schedule ranks as toughest in NFC, fourth-hardest in NFL

49ers' 2020 schedule ranks as toughest in NFC, fourth-hardest in NFL

The 49ers took advantage of a third-place schedule this season after finishing behind both the Los Angeles Rams and Seattle Seahawks in the NFC West a year ago. But now that they're the cream of the crop in the division, they won't have that same benefit next season.

The NFL schedule is intentionally structured to create parity. Generally, the best teams from the previous season face each other, while the teams that finished third and fourth in their respective divisions encounter a less challenging slate. The point is to create a situation in which all teams can contend for the playoffs on a regular basis.

You don't have to look further than San Francisco to get an idea of how quickly a team's fortunes can change within this system. The 49ers went from the No. 2 overall pick in the draft to the No. 1 seed in the NFC. And, consequently, they'll face a tougher road through the regular season in 2020 than they did in 2019.

The NFC West will play against the AFC East and NFC East in 2020. Counting San Francisco's six intra-divisional contests, that accounts for 14 of the 16 games the 49ers will play during the 2020 regular season. But since they finished first in their own division, they'll also face the 2019 first-place teams from the two other divisions in the conference, meaning the New Orleans Saints and Green Bay Packers.

While the game dates have yet to be announced, their locations are known. For instance, San Francisco will travel to New Orleans, while the Packers will visit Levi's Stadium in 2020 -- both for the second season in a row.

[RELATED: 49ers' 2020 opponents set after team claims NFC West title]

The 49ers' 2020 opponents compiled a combined record of 134-120-2 in 2019, which equates to a .528 winning percentage. That ranks as the toughest 2020 regular-season schedule in the NFC and the fourth-toughest in the NFL, behind the New England Patriots (.537), New York Jets (.533) and Miami Dolphins (.529). For comparison, their 2019 opponents combined for a .510 winning percentage in 2018. 

Now, just as the 49ers went from near-worst to first, it isn't uncommon to see the opposite occur. Just because a team was successful in 2019 does not guarantee that it'll be a winning squad next season, so it's certainly possible that San Francisco's 2020 schedule won't be as daunting as it currently appears. Of course, one could also argue that most -- if not all -- of the 49ers' divisional foes will be improved in 2020, so if you're expecting them to easily coast to a second straight NFC West title, you're likely asking to be disappointed.

Stefon Diggs trade: Does this hypothetical deal make sense for Raiders?

Stefon Diggs trade: Does this hypothetical deal make sense for Raiders?

Heading into the season, it appeared the Raiders were primed to throw the ball all over the yard. With Antonio Brown, Tyrell Williams, Hunter Renfrow, Darren Waller and Josh Jacobs, the Raiders were loaded with guys who could make plays in the passing game and it was set up to be a big year for quarterback Derek Carr.  

Then, Brown went AWOL and demanded his release, and head coach Jon Gruden was forced to change the direction of his offense on the fly just as the season was opening. The Silver and Black have acquitted themselves well without Brown, choosing to feature a heavy power-run game behind a bruising offensive line.

After their 24-21 win over the Bears in Week 5, the Raiders head into the bye week at 3-2 feeling good about where the offense is at. But they still could use the vertical threat they are missing without Brown.

Williams has played well as the default No. 1, but he's been slowed by defenses keying on him and missed the game against the Bears with a foot injury. J.J. Nelson has missed several games due to injury, which has left the Raiders thin at receiver. Gruden was forced to rely on Trevor Davis, Keelan Doss and Renfrow against the Bears, only further highlighting Oakland's need for another playmaking receiver. 

That's where Stefon Diggs could come into play. The Vikings' young star is unhappy with his role in Minnesota's offense and appears, at least on some level, to want to leave the Twin Cities. Even after he played in Sunday's win over the Giants, Diggs didn't do much to quell the talk of wanting out.

I've already covered the clear fact that, if he is available, the Raiders should make a run at Diggs. He's young, explosive and helps them fill a clear need.

But what would it take for the Raiders to pry Diggs away from the Vikes?

First off, it seems unlikely the Vikings, who have Super Bowl dreams, would have any interest in trading one of their best offensive weapons, even if they don't use him the way they should. But if the Vikings were to entertain an offer, ESPN's Bill Barnwell came up with a hypothetical trade that he believes could get Diggs to Oakland.

In his latest trade column, Barnwell floats the idea of a three-team trade between the Raiders, Vikings and Miami Dolphins. In the deal, the Raiders would get Diggs and a 2020 sixth-round draft pick from the Dolphins. The Vikings, meanwhile, would get wide receiver DeVante Parker and the lesser of the Raiders' two 2020 first-round draft picks. The Dolphins would get a 2020 fourth-round pick from both the Vikings and the Raiders. 

Who says no? Well, the Vikings probably. Still, it's a yes for the Silver and Black.

[RELATED: Raiders earn respect with 'statement wins' vs. Colts, Bears]

Diggs, 25, is entering the prime of his career and is in the first year of a five-year extension. He has the ability to help the Raiders make a run at the playoffs this season, and gives them a young star to market when the team moves to Las Vegas.

Trading first-round draft picks normally is frowned upon, but Diggs is worth the price if the Vikings put him on the market. High draft picks are a valuable commodity, but there's no guarantee that selection, which likely will be in the back half of the first round, will yield a player of Diggs' caliber.

The price is right, but it feels like Diggs is set to remain in purple for the time being.

Steelers acquire Minkah Fitzpatrick from Dolphins week of 49ers game

minkahsteelersap.jpg
AP

Steelers acquire Minkah Fitzpatrick from Dolphins week of 49ers game

The 49ers didn't trade for Minkah Fitzpatrick, and now they get to face him. Right away.

The Steelers have acquired Fitzpatrick from the Dolphins for multiple draft picks, including Pittsburgh's 2020 first-round draft pick, the team announced Tuesday morning.

ESPN's Adam Schefter first reported the news Monday night, citing league sources. The defensive back recently demanded a trade out of Miami after the Dolphins were outscored 102-10 over the first two weeks of the season.

The trade comes at an especially inopportune time for San Francisco, as it ends the 49ers' pursuit of Fitzpatrick, if there even was one. But more to the point, now San Francisco will get a first-hand look at the former first-round draft pick in its very next game when the Steelers visit this weekend.

The No. 11 overall pick of the 2018 NFL Draft, Fitzpatrick was taken two picks after San Francisco selected offensive tackle Mike McGlinchey at No. 9. He has the ability to play both cornerback and safety, and that versatility would have been very useful in the 49ers' defensive backfield, had they been willing to pay the price required.

With Fitzpatrick now headed to Pittsburgh, Jacksonville's Jalen Ramsey becomes the most coveted defensive back available on the trade block, after the Jaguars cornerback similarly demanded a trade Monday. Both Richard Sherman and Ahkello Witherspoon have played well over the course of San Francisco's 2-0 start, but like Fitzpatrick, Ramsey would present an upgrade -- and also likely cost a first-round draft pick, at least.

[RELATED: Why 49ers should do whatever it takes to get Jags' Ramsey]

The 49ers previously sent away their own 2020 second-round draft pick in the trade that brought Dee Ford over from Kansas City. San Francisco has placed a high value on draft selections ever since the beginning of the Kyle Shanahan-John Lynch regime, but given the 49ers' fast start and suddenly steep trajectory, perhaps it's time to consider using those draft selections to acquire more established commodities.

San Francisco suddenly has a need for an offensive tackle in the wake of Joe Staley's broken fibula. Whether it's an offensive lineman or an All-Pro defensive back, the 49ers should be thinking long and hard about pursuing some players that would undeniably improve their team, both in the immediate and the long-term future.