NFL playoff picture, Week 9: 49ers look for boost while on bye

Kirby Lee-US PRESSWIRE

We break down the current NFC playoff picture as the 49ers enjoy their bye in Week 9

The 49ers are on their bye this week, but that doesn't mean they can't benefit from Week 9 action. The 49ers took a fairly strong two-game lead in the division with their win over the Cardinals on Monday Night Football, hopefully moving the divisional tie-breakers permanently into the rear view mirror. JH But not the Coach continued his look at those tiebreakers in his post-Week 8 FanPost.

Here is how the NFC playoff picture currently stands:

1. Atlanta Falcons: 7-0
2. Chicago Bears: 6-1
3. New York Giants: 6-2
4. San Francisco 49ers: 6-2
5. Green Bay Packers: 5-3
6. Minnesota Vikings: 5-3

The change from last week is the Packers climbing above the Vikings into the five-seed. If the playoffs started today, we would have a 49ers-Packers first round matchup. It is kind of crazy to think that could be a first round matchup, as opposed to a potential NFC championship game matchup. Plenty can and will change between now and then, so we'll see if it holds up.

Here is the NFC schedule for Week 9:

Cardinals (4-4) @ Packers (5-3)
Bears (6-1) @ Titans
Panthers (1-6) @ Redskins (3-5)
Lions (3-4) @ Jaguars
Bucs (3-4) @ Raiders
Vikings (5-3) @ Seahawks (4-4)
Steelers @ Giants (6-2)
Cowboys (3-4) @ Falcons (7-0)
Eagles (3-4) @ Saints (2-5)

While technically nobody is eliminated from playoff contention, teams like the Panthers and Saints are going in the wrong direction in a hurry. We like that especially for Panthers Watch 2012!

This weekend, the Rams have a bye because of their trip to London, but the more pertinent divisional teams in Seattle and Arizona have difficult matchups this week. The Cardinals have to travel to Lambeau Field to face the Packers, while the Seahawks host the Vikings at the Clink.

The Seahawks are in a much more winnable matchup, but it is still a tough one. Minnesota got off to strong start, but has lost two of three. The loser of this game is not out of the playoff race, but they take a big hit, with Seattle in particular needing a big win.

The Cardinals can't write this Packers game off, but this is a tough one. The Jaguars hung close with Green Bay last week, but I have a hunch the Packers blow things up this week against Arizona. It just screams blowout to me.

So who to root for this today? The easiest rooting interest has to be the Steelers later this afternoon. The Giants hold a tie-break edge on the 49ers because of their win at Candlestick. Although the difference in the three and the four seed does not impact the bye week, the higher the seeding the better in a general sense. Sure there are certain matchups we might prefer for the 49ers as the playoffs approach, but if the 49ers and Giants ended up squaring off in a later round, I'll take home-field advantage.

Among other opponents, the most pertinent rooting interests are for the Redskins over the Panthers, the Titans over the Bears, the Vikings over the Seahawks, and the Cowboys over the Falcons. If you don't want to root for the Cowboys over the Falcons, I understand. The 49ers just need one of the two byes, so if it pains you to accept a Cowboys victory, it is not the end of the world.

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