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We’re going into Week 10 of the NFL season, and once again, San Francisco 49ers fans have relegated themselves to the reality that the season is lost. Instead of arguing whether the Niners can keep the Seattle Seahawks from winning the NFC West division crown, fans are arguing whether the new quarterback should be a rookie or a veteran, which players will be cut due to a drop in the salary cap, and just how much draft capital will they need to move up and grab the college QB they think is going to be the savior.
But what if that isn’t the actual reality?
Look, the 49ers have had some of the worst luck imaginable. The list of injured players is so large that they only had three players deactivated in their Week 10 blowout loss to the Green Bay Packers. They were missing twelve potential offensive starters and eight defensive starters, a number bloated by wide receiver Kendrick Bourne’s false positive COVID-19 test. Starting QB Jimmy Garoppolo has been oft-injured, now finding himself on the IR list, and didn’t play that great when he has been on the field. There has been exactly one game in which the team’s RB1 (Raheem Mostert), their WR1 (Deebo Samuel), WR2 (Brandon Aiyuk), and TE1 (George Kittle) have actually stepped on the field together.
Their defense, minus top edge rusher Nick Bosa and top defensive back Richard Sherman, has performed admirably, although less than all-worldly –as they did last season. The defensive role players have played bigger roles, and Fred Warner continues to show everyone why he should be mentioned in the conversation about who should be the top linebacker in the league. With all of this taken into account, it has been a season full of disappointment and wonder.
After nine weeks the 49ers, even with the second most players on IR in the league, are sitting at 4-5, only one game back from .500 (and a few plays short of being over .500). With the expanded playoffs starting this season, the team is only one game back from the third and final NFC Wild Card spot –a place currently held by division rival Los Angeles Rams. The team’s final seven games come against the New Orleans Saints, The LA Rams (following their Week 11 bye), Buffalo Bills, Washington Football Team, Dallas Cowboys, Arizona Cardinals, and Seattle Seahawks. A difficult schedule for sure, heavy with division leaders and NFC West opponents who the 49ers will have a difficult time defeating.
Interestingly enough, they don’t have to run the table to possibly gain that final Wild Card seat. With a game left against the Rams, plus a little help from Rams’ opponents, the 49ers could be tied with them come Week 13 after a loss to the Saints and beating the Rams in Week 12 and the Rams losing to Seahawks in Week 10 and Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 11. The team would also need some help with Chicago Bears losses, which doesn’t seem out of the realm.
If the 49ers then won three of their final five games (beating the Cowboys and the WFT and then winning one of the games against the Bills, Cardinals, and Seahawks) they could sneak into the bottom of the playoff seeding. How, you may ask, can a team so depleted and hurting accomplish such a feat? After the bye week, the team could have Sherman, Mostert, Samuel, and Aiyuk back on the field. With cornerback Jason Verrett playing at an elevated level that reminds people across the league why he was thought of as a top-five CB, the 49ers could finish the season with the best CB1/CB2 combination in the NFL. As fans have briefly seen here and there, Samuel and Aiyuk are one of the most exciting young WR duos in the NFL, and if Richie James Jr. is able to keep the slot WR spot and produce like he did against the Packers, the passing game will be the most loaded it’s been in years. Mullens is serviceable and shown that he can win games when he isn’t forced to be the leader of the team.
The biggest wrench in this feel-good fiction?
No Bosa. No Kittle.
Bosa is done for the season, while Kittle is a possible return for the postseason – meaning the team will have to win those four regular season games without them. No easy task, and not what the last three seasons has shown us. The exciting part of all of this, is that both Kittle and polarizing QB Jimmy Garoppolo could return for a playoff run. As fans saw last year, when the offense is clicking, they can beat teams like the Saints and Seahawks, likely first round opponents if they were to make the playoffs.
What fans do know, is that even though this fictional ending of the season is not likely, head coach Kyle Shanahan has shown an ability to get teams to play hard and to win, when the team doesn’t have any tangible reason to.
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