The San Francisco 49ers chances at the NFC West title may have taken a mortal wound Sunday afternoon. The 49ers lost a 23-20 heart-breaker to the New Orleans Saints. Add in Seattle Seahawks win over Minnesota, and the 49ers are now 3 1/2 games out of first in the division. The Seahawks have a bye next week, and then host the New Orleans Saints in Week 13. The Saints could win that game, but Seattle is tough enough at home, that I wouldn't hold my breath for that.
Even if the 49ers beat Washington next week and pick up the half game, they'll remain three out with five games to go. A comeback is possible, but the more realistic consideration is the wildcard race. The Carolina Panthers still have to play on Monday Night Football, but otherwise, here are the playoff standings through Week 11:
No. 1 Seattle Seahawks 10-1 (NFC West leader)
No. 2 New Orleans Saints 8-2 (NFC South leader)
No. 3 Detroit Lions 6-4 (NFC North leader)
No. 4 Philadelphia Eagles 6-5 (NFC East leader)
No. 5 Carolina Panthers 6-3 (Wild Card)
No. 6 San Francisco 49ers 6-4 (Wild Card)
The biggest change is that suddenly the 49ers find themselves tied with the Arizona Cardinals and Chicago bears in the wildcard race. If the Panthers lose, the 49ers would still remain in the No. 6 spot because of that head-to-head tiebreaker.
For now, the 49ers hold the head-to-head edge over the Cardinals, and the conference record advantage over the Bears. The 49ers are 3-3 in the NFC, while the Bears are 3-4. The 49ers travel to face Washington next Monday, the Bears travel to face the Rams and the Cardinals host the Indianapolis Colts. Things just got a whole lot tighter as the 49ers look to get back to the playoffs for the third year in a row.
Week 12 schedule
49ers @ Washington - Every game is must-win, but this game just got that much bigger. The 49ers head east to Washington for Monday Night Football. Washington is coming off a 24-16 loss to the Eagles, and can't seem to get its own act together. The 49ers will head into this game as modest favorites, but they've got their work cut out for them. The 49ers offense will get a chance against a struggling Washington defense, so maybe that will help get them in gear.
Colts @ Cardinals - Arizona is suddenly tied with the 49ers and the Bears in the NFC wildcard race. They haven't exactly beaten great teams, but given that the 49ers wins are coming against mediocre to bad teams, what can you say? I still think the Cardinals slip back in the pack as we get into December, but for now they're hanging around. This home game against the Colts is pretty big, even though it won't impact tiebreakers. They can't afford to lose any ground on the 49ers or Bears.
Bears @ Rams - The Bears head in to St. Louis to face the inconsistent Rams. St. Louis stands at 4-6, and suddenly is only two games back in the wildcard race. Will the Bears get the Rams team that went on the road to beat Indianapolis 38-8, or will they be the team that got beat at home by the Titans the week before?
Panthers @ Dolphins - The Panthers have a huge game tonight, but then get another tough AFC East opponent a week later. The Dolphins are 5-5, but they remain dangerous. We'll know a little bit more about the Panthers tonight. This game will be important no matter what, but a win against the Patriots eases their road just a little bit.
Vikings @ Packers - The Packers are just looking to hang around until Aaron Rodgers gets back. They've lost three straight, and still might not see Rodgers back until at least Thanksgiving. They're only a game out of the wild card and their own division race, but without Rodgers, they're running out of gas.
Buccaneers @ Lions - The Lions had their chances against Pittsburgh on Sunday, but couldn't close the deal. They head back home for a very winnable game against the Bucs. This is must-win for them as they are locked into a tight NFC North battle. It is also worth noting that they hold the conference record tie-breaker edge over the 49ers if they slip out of the division lead. They currently hold the head-to-head tiebreaker on the Bears.
Cowboys @ Giants - The NFC East is a disaster right now, but the winner of the division does get a home playoff game. The Eagles are on their bye, so Dallas will look to climb back into a tie with them. Of course, they have to beat the streaking Giants to do that. After a brutal start, the Giants have won four straight. If they can beat the Cowboys, they would actually climb into a tie with them, and a game back of the division-leading Eagles. How crazy it has been.