San Fran's Road To Perdition Starts In Washington
After another gut-wrenching loss, the 49ers still control their own destiny in the NFC playoff hunt, but the road got a little bit tougher. With the Bears and Cardinals sitting at 6-4, and Dallas and Green Bay at .500, there are certainly challengers for the final playoff spot, especially with the Panthers surging to 7-3 at the moment. Aaron Rodgers’ impending return from his cracked collarbone has to have the Packers flying under the radar. The Niners’ schedule has a few hiccups, but their road to the playoffs is more about staying healthy and taking care of business.
Coming into the season, games like at Washington and vs. Atlanta were supposed to be marquee matchups. Those Monday Night tilts coming up for the Niners should look like cupcakes, but in the NFL, you never know. The Redskins look about as dead in the water as any team in the league right now. RG3’s not on the same page as his receivers, and criticism is flying around Landover. However, they were 3-6 last season before going on a six-game winning streak. The quarterback is clearly not playing as well as he was in 2012, but a prime time game at FedEx Field cannot be taken lightly.
Additionally, as we saw Thursday night, the Falcons are a good enough team to put a scare into some teams. The Falcons may be better off ‘tanking’ the season, setting themselves up to select Jadaveon Clowney, but Matt Ryan and company have enough pride to fight to the final game. However, the Week 16 game is in San Francisco and the Niners are likely to be fighting for a playoff birth. It’d be presumptive to call that a W, but unless the Niners suffer a complete breakdown, they will be winning that game.
The two toughest games left on the Niners’ slate are easily division matchups against the Cardinals and Seahawks. It was thought, a couple weeks ago, that the 49ers-Seahawks game in Week 14 would be for the division. Seattle has taken care of business, escaping a few games with a W, while the Niners have lost two tough games against NFC South opponents. The game will obviously have the usual intensity; the Seahawks will be on a short week after playing the Saints on Monday Night Football. The winner of that game will have the inside track on the #1 seed in the playoffs. It will be a huge game for both teams, with the ‘Hawks looking to lock up home field advantage and the Niners staying in the playoff hunt.
Although we’re looking well ahead here, the Week 17 matchup in Arizona between the Niners and Cardinals could potentially be a play-in game. Both teams sit at 6-4, but Arizona’s next two games are important before facing Seattle and San Francisco the last two weeks. In playing the Colts at home this week and then going to Philadelphia in Week 13, Bruce Arians’s squad has two crucial games against playoff competition that will truly test them. If they somehow win both games, they’ll be a contender for a playoff spot. Even if they aren’t in the playoff hunt by Week 17, they’ll still love to play spoiler for the Niners at home.
The other two games left for the Niners are at home vs. the Rams and at Tampa Bay. St. Louis has been playing well of late, even blowing out the Colts before their bye. The Bucs too, have picked up their play, and don’t look like the disaster of a team that they were the first half of the season. They’ve rallied around embattled coach Greg Schiano and he has them playing some quality football. There’s no doubt about it though, the 49ers should not lose these games if they’re going to make the playoffs. The NFC has proven to be a beast this season, with 10 teams sitting at 5-5 or better. With all six games remaining against NFC teams, the Niners have their toughest work still to do.