Breaking Down Potential 49ers Playoff Scenarios
Image Credit: Andrew Giesemann
What are The Chances?
Entering week fourteen of the NFL season, the San Francisco 49ers are sitting at 10-2, with two field goals, one missed by them and a last second one made by the Baltimore Ravens last week separating them from a perfect record. At 10-2 they have won as many games this season as they did the past two seasons combined, and instead of looking at where they might pick in next year’s draft, the team and all of their fans are trying to figure out what spot in the playoffs they will be taking.
With four games left, two against division opponents, there is a lot still left up in the air. After being in first place in the NFC for the first thirteen weeks of the season, their 20-17 loss to the Ravens on Sunday combined with the Seahawks 37-30 win over the Minnesota Vikings on Monday night dropped the 49ers all the way down to the fifth seed in the NFC. The 49ers and their fans should be happy that they are even in the playoff contention, but an esteemed franchise like the one being run by CEO Jed York and general manager John Lynch expects to be in the playoff hunt every year.
Entering the playoffs as a fifth seed guarantees that they will play every game in the playoffs on the road, unless they and the sixth seed (currently the 8-4 Vikings) meet each other in the NFC championship game –something that has never happened in the history of the NFL. Just to throw it out there, the 49ers have also never won a playoff game as a fifth seed, currently sitting at 0-2 when entering the playoffs as the top wild card team.
So, what needs to happen for the team to move up the bracket and earn at least one home field game in the playoffs? Let’s take a look:
To Regain the One Seed and Home Field Advantage Throughout
The first thing that needs to happen is for the 49ers to win out the rest of the season. That won’t be an easy thing for them to do. First on the slate is the new number-one seed, the 10-2 New Orleans Saints. Then they have the Atlanta Falcon at home, the Los Angeles Rams at home, and then the Seattle Seahawks in Seattle. If both the 49ers and the Seahawks win out, that final game would be for the top seed in the NFC West division and top seed in the NFC. If the 49ers lose to the Saints and then win out, the 49ers would need to win a tie breaker so convoluted that it would take a whole other article to explain it all. Just know, winning out is the only guarantee the 49ers earn the top seed. They could use some help, like if the Rams were able to surprise the Seahawks this weekend or the Carolina Panthers could beat Seattle next weekend, but winning out the last four games gives them the only guarantee.
Is Second Place in the Conference and a First Round Bye Possible?
This is less likely than winning the conference. If the 49ers lose to the Saints this weekend and drop to 10-3, then to win the NFC West they would need the Seahawks to lose a game, or even two, and then the 49ers would need to beat the Seahawks in Week 17. The Saints would keep the first spot in the NFC if they win out the last three weeks. This is less likely, but the 49ers do have the tie breaker over the Packers and should finish with a better record than the Vikings.
What about hosting a Wild Card Game?
The fact that the Seahawks are also 10-2 pretty much pushes this option out the door. Either the currently 6-6 Dallas Cowboys or the 5-7 Philadelphia Eagles are going to host a Wild Card game as the NFC East Champions. The Green Bay Packers are sitting at 9-3 and battling the 8-4 Vikings for the NFC North division title. The winner of that game is probably going to be the four seed and host the other Wild Card game. In order for the 49ers to host a Wild Card game, the Packers or Vikings would have to finish with a better record than the 49ers and Seahawks, with the 49ers finishing with a better record than the Seahawks. The first part of that sequence probably isn’t going to happen. Both the 49ers and Seahawks would have to lose as many, if not more, games over the next four weeks than either team lost in the previous twelve games. This would also put the Rams back into play for the NFC West division title, as the Seahawks and/or 49ers would have to lose to them to make that happen.
Is it Possible for the 49ers to Not Make the Playoffs?
Technically yes, but probably won’t happen. If the 49ers win this weekend and the Seahawks win this weekend, the 49ers clinch a playoff berth. In order for the 49ers to not make the playoffs, they would have to drop at least three of the last four games, with the Rams winning out, the Vikings winning out, and Packers winning three of their last four. If the 49ers were to lose their last four games, the Rams would still need to win out to knock them out of second place in the division. With all of the injuries the team has had, plus playing two 10-2 teams, and two very up-and-down teams in the Rams and Falcons, it isn’t completely out of the realm of possibility, but it would be one of the most shockingly disappointing endings to any season in recent history.
So What Does it all Mean?
It means that the 49ers are probably going to enter the playoffs either at the NFC’s top seed, or as its fifth seed. With a little help from the Rams or the Panthers, the 49ers could have a little easier path to the number one seed, but unless they match the Seahawks win for win over the next three weeks and then beat them in Week 17, the 49ers will be entering the playoffs as a five seed, possibly with a 13-3 record. If they win out but lose the tie breakers, they could be a 14-2 five seed who will be traveling all postseason long.
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