One of most impressive feats Jim Harbaugh and the 49ers pulled off last year: Going 5-0 in games that started at 10 a.m. PST. How impressive was it? In the five years prior, the 49ers were 6-23 in 10 a.m. kickoffs, and one of those wins came in London.
Harbaugh's only loss in the eastern time zone in 2011 came during a short week against brother John in Baltimore on Thanksgiving night, and Harbaugh made it clear at the time he thought the travel burden was unfair. (He also let the NFL schedule maker know about it).
One decision that seemed to give the 49ers a travel edge was staying east between games in Cincinnati and Philadelphia early in the year. Instead of flying back to San Jose following a narrow win over Bengals in Week 3, the 49ers spent the week in Youngstown, Ohio. They then traveled a short distance to Philadelphia for a narrow win over the Eagles.
Harbaugh last week confirmed there will be another Youngstown stopover this season between the Weeks 3 and 4 games in Minnesota and at the New York Jets. Both contests begin at 10 a.m. PST.
There's a circadian advantage to this approach in that the longer the players stay in the central (Minnesota) and then eastern (Ohio and New York) time zones, the more adjusted they'll be to the kickoff against the Jets.
The stay in Youngstown also carves a significant amount of mileage from their travel and, theoretically, a significant amount of jet lag from their bodies. The total mileage of round-trip flights from San Jose to Minneapolis and San Jose to New York is 8,244 miles. By staying in Youngstown, the two-week travel total is 5,158 miles.
The team's bigger hurdle this year may be the Dec. 16 game at New England. Before looking up the distances, my sense was that San Jose to Miami (which is practically in South America) was the 49ers' longest NFL trip. Not so. While that voyage is 2,556 miles as the crow flies, the trip to Boston is 2,680 miles. (New York, in fact, is only four miles closer to San Jose than San Jose is to Miami)
The week after the Patriots game, which is in prime time, the 49ers have to go on the road to Seattle. Of course, it's hard to explain a woe-is-us travel tale to a Seattle fan (their city is practically in Russia). The week before they play the 49ers, the Seahawks will be in Buffalo (2,110 miles). And a month before that, they'll embark on the NFL's longest trip (2,720 miles) to Miami.
* Over the last six seasons, the 49ers have averaged nearly six 10 a.m. (PST) starts a year. This year there are only three - the games in Minnesota and New York and their annual outing in St. Louis.
-- Matt Barrows