NFL Playoff Scenarios: The 49ers Drag Us Along For The "Ride"

SAN DIEGO CA - DECEMBER 16: Quarterback Alex Smith #11 of the San Francisco 49ers is sacked by linebacker Antwan Barnes #98 of the San Diego Chargers in the fourth quarter at Qualcomm Stadium on December 16 2010 in San Diego California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

As the 49ers self-destructed live on national television two nights ago against the San Diego Chargersthe game threads got pretty brutal. My tweets and Facebook status updates were just as brutal. At one point my Facebook status said, "This game is eating away at my soul." Possibly a bit of an overreaction, but it really did feel like a brutal kick in the junk. At times it felt worse than most of the games this season.

And yet, should it have? In the recap thread, howtheyscored had this to say:

Seriously, though, I can't get worked up over the fact that we lost to a team that we know is much, much, much better than ours in a game that barely affects our playoff chances anyway. This game was written down as a loss a month ago. We've never once talked about the 49ers going to the playoffs at 8-8.

This changes nothing. tt just confirms what we already knew without crushing our hopes in the slightest. Let's all drink a beer and sing Christmas songs. It's the season of not giving a crap about losing a game that makes no difference for the remainder of the season.

Should the Rams beat the Chiefs, though, then we'll be in an awkward spot.

Someone responded commenting on the ineptitude we saw and how that was the brutal part. To that, howtheyscored responded with:

And we were already aware that this team is totally inept! That's the beauty! It changes nothing!

In theory, all we have to do is beat two teams that we have already beaten this year and we're in the playoffs. Ineptitude or none!

I was watching CSN Bay Area yesterday and they showed some comments from different players in the locker room shortly after the game. Patrick Willis made a comment about how the team needs to figure out how to beat non-divisional teams if they want to take that step forward.

Whether he meant this in terms of the big picture is not that important because the 49ers have no more non-divisional opponents the rest of the season. They face the St. Louis Rams on the road next week and close out the season at home against the Arizona Cardinals. Both games are winnable, although in 2010 that word lacks a bit of the cache it might have had in the past.

This is not a post about how the 49ers can still pull this thing out and how we should maintain hope. Someone suggested banning the use of the word playoffs but I really have no problem with people who want to maintain some semblance of hope. To be perfectly honest, tomorrow morning and afternoon, I'll find myself glued to the Red Zone channel waiting for cut-ins on the Rams-Chiefs at 10:00am and the Falcons-Seahawks at 1:00pm. If they both win the 49ers playoff chances are ended. If at least one of them loses, we get to ride this roller-coaster for one more week.

At this point, if the 49ers somehow stunned most of the world and won the NFC West (particularly given than no 0-5 team has ever come back to make the playoffs), they would become the first sub-.500 playoff team in NFL history. The odds of that happening aren't great, but the slimmest of chances remain. I've seen numerous comments about the embarrassment of potentially being that first sub-.500 playoff team.

My problem with a 7-9 49ers playoff team would not be the ignominy of being the first sub-.500 playoff team. In reality, I don't care about that at all. Playoffs are playoffs and if the 49ers get in based on the current setup, I'm not going to complain. It's a new season once the playoffs start and while they could certainly be embarrassed in January, I'm willing to take that chance for the playoff spot.

However, my issue with potentially making the playoffs has more to do with the long term future of the team. Ray Ratto was on Press Conference Live yesterday prior to Mike Singletary's Q&A with the media and Ratto made an oft-stated point. He spoke about how a playoff spot could put the team in a position of thinking they're closer to solving their problems than they really are. I don't know if they would think that, but the chance of it is certainly a little bit frightening.

Of course, this is all dependent on the 49ers making the playoffs, which remains a bit of a long shot for now. It starts tomorrow with the Seahawks and Rams. We do not control our own destiny this weekend (although I thought "destiny" couldn't be controlled) so we get to wait and see how tomorrow's action finishes up. The 49ers have not proven they can win anything consistently, but if the games matter the remaining two opponents leave just enough room for hope. This train wreck of a season is not complete yet and it would be fitting if the team dragged us along just a little bit further into the madness.

Hope still exists for some, but unlike what Red said it's not always a good thing.

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