Things could get ugly for San Francisco 49ers with brutal start, finish to schedule

The Chip Kelly era in San Francisco begins in 2016. What is less certain is who will play quarterback against one of the league's toughest schedules. AP Photo/Ben Margot

Breakdown: The San Francisco 49ers, along with the Atlanta Falcons, have the toughest strength of schedule in the NFL, their opponents last season compiling a winning percentage of .555 in 2015. That does not bode well for a rebuilding 49ers team that, while it believes it has depth, does not appear to be as talented as the outfit that finished 5-11 last season. New coach Chip Kelly has his work cut out for him, especially early. Opening on Monday Night Football at home against the reborn Los Angeles Rams is nostalgic, but what comes next could be an early-season killer -- a short turnaround with a visit to the NFC-champion Carolina Panthers followed by a roadie at the nemesis Seattle Seahawks. Then, after playing host to the Dallas Cowboys, it's another short week due to a Thursday night visit from the Arizona Cardinals. This could get ugly quickly for Kelly, or it could be a springboard to better days ahead.

NFL death march? For the third time in the past five seasons, the 49ers led the league in travel in 2015, logging 13,892 miles, and the NFL did them no favors late in the 2016 season with five roadies in seven weeks: at Arizona on Nov. 13, vs. New England on Nov. 20, at Miami on Nov. 27, at Chicago on Dec. 4, vs. the New York Jets on Dec. 11, at Atlanta on Dec. 18 and at Los Angeles on Christmas Eve. Then there’s this: The team with the toughest schedule has made the playoffs in two of the past three seasons.

Prodigal son returns ... kinda: Tom Brady is a Bay Area guy, a huge 49ers and Joe Montana fan growing up in San Mateo, a 33-minute car ride from Santa Clara, before playing at Michigan. The 49ers drafted Giovanni Carmazzi in 2000 instead of Brady, though to be fair, six other QBs were selected ahead of him. And when the Patriots visit Levi’s Stadium on Nov. 20, it will be Brady’s first visit to the Niners’ home. Ever. Needing 1,972 yards to become the fifth quarterback to join the 60,000 passing yards club, Brady should have already eclipsed that mark before his homecoming, but he rarely needs extra motivation.

Strength of schedule: T-1st, .555.

49ers Regular-Season Schedule (All times Eastern)

  • Week 1: Monday, Sept. 12, Los Angeles, 10:20 p.m.

  • Week 2: Sunday, Sept. 18, at Carolina, 1 p.m.

  • Week 3: Sunday, Sept. 25, at Seattle, 4:05 p.m.

  • Week 4: Sunday, Oct. 2, Dallas, 4:25 p.m.

  • Week 5: Thursday, Oct. 6, Arizona, 8:25 p.m.

  • Week 6: Sunday, Oct. 16, at Buffalo, 1 p.m.

  • Week 7: Sunday, Oct. 23, Tampa Bay, 4:05 p.m.

  • Week 8: BYE

  • Week 9: Sunday, Nov. 6, New Orleans, 4:05 p.m.

  • Week 10: Sunday, Nov. 13, at Arizona, 4:25 p.m.

  • Week 11: Sunday, Nov. 20, New England, 4:25 p.m.

  • Week 12: Sunday, Nov. 27, at Miami, 1 p.m.

  • Week 13: Sunday, Dec. 4, at Chicago, 1 p.m.

  • Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 11, NY Jets, 4:05 p.m.

  • Week 15: Sunday, Dec. 18, at Atlanta, 4:05 p.m.

  • Week 16: Saturday, Dec. 24, at Los Angeles, 4:25 p.m.

  • Week 17: Sunday, Jan. 1, Seattle, 4:25 p.m.