SANTA CLARA — One look at the 49ers upcoming schedule convinced linebacker Patrick Willis why no Super Bowl runner-up since 1972 has returned the to win the Lombardi Trophy the following season.
"When the schedule got released, I was like, 'Wow, this is one heck of a schedule,' " Willis said Wednesday as all 49ers reported to training camp. "When you get to a Super Bowl, win or lose, that next year's schedule is no joke."
The 49ers open the regular season Sept. 8 against the Green Bay Packers, a matchup the 49ers won both to start last regular season and their playoff run to Super Bowl XLVII.
Five of their other opponents are coming off playoff appearances: the Seahawks (at Seattle on Sept. 15, at Candlestick on Dec. 8), the Colts (home, Sept. 22), the Texans (home, Oct. 6), the Redskins (away, Nov. 25) and the Falcons (home, Dec. 23).
"This is a demanding schedule. At the same time, we don't like it easy," Willis said. "When you have a tough schedule and you can win it, no one can take it away from you and say they had an easy schedule."
The 49ers' strength of schedule is tied for seventh toughest in the league, as their opponents carried a combined .520 winning percentage last season. The 49ers were at the other end of the spectrum a year ago, when they tied for the seventh-easiest schedule (.488).
"We've got to win our division because it'll be tougher than it was last year," cornerback Carlos Rogers said.
Added running back Frank Gore: "We have one of the best divisions in football and we like it like that. We like it tough. We know to get back (to the Super Bowl), we've got to do better this year."
According to Gore and Willis, all 49ers passed Wednesday's conditioning tests. The team's first full-squad practice is Thursday, but they can't be in pads until Saturday.