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2009 NFL Playoffs: The 49ers and the wildcard

At this point, even with the win over Chicago, a lot of folks are less than optimistic about the 49ers playoff chances.  The Cardinals win yesterday certainly did not help the 49ers divisional chances, but plenty of other action had a big impact on the playoff race.  Our man urnext will be around later today with a comprehensive review, but I thought I'd take a look at yesterday's results in terms of the 49ers playoff picture.

Given how bunched up things are at this point, it's probably too early to make any decent conclusions.  At the same time, with the 49ers just over halfway through their season, this can also work as a de facto halfway point look ahead.  At this point the wildcard standings are as follows (not factoring in division leaders):

Philadelphia Eagles (5-4)
NY Giants (5-4)
Green Bay Packers (5-4)
Atlanta Falcons (5-4)
San Francisco 49ers (4-5)
Carolina Panthers (4-5)
Chicago Bears (4-5)

What makes this especially interesting?  The 49ers have road games against two of the teams ahead of them.  Just as helpful is the fact that the 49ers are currently 4-2 in conference, which is tied for the best conference mark among these seven teams (conference tiebreaker is the second tiebreaker after head-to-head).

More after the jump...

To say certain games on the 49ers schedule are "must-win" is a rather purpose-less statement.  Yes they have to beat teams like the Rams and Lions.  However, the tougher games are necessary wins as well.  They may not win every game, but as far as most of us are concerned, they need to pile up as many wins as possible.  I know, Captain Obvious speaking.

At this point, I think it's safe to say that every game has become especially interesting, even the Lions and Rams could be high stress games if the playoffs are on the line.  But for now, let's take a look at the particularly interesting games outside the division.  We have had plenty of opportunities to talk about the Cardinals and the Seahawks after all.  More to come on that later in the season.

Week 11 @ Green Bay: It may be the first regular season matchup between Alex Smith and Aaron Rodgers, but both teams find themselves battling for their playoff lives.  While the 49ers still have a decent enough chance to win the division, Green Bay is three games back of Minnesota, who swept the Packers.  The Packers are coming off an ugly, but huge, win over the Cowboys at Lambeau.

The 49ers have struggled tremendously against Green Bay in the recent past.  How much?  The Packers are 10-1 against the 49ers since January 1996, with the Young-to-TO game being the one victory.  Can the 49ers reverse course this weekend?  Road games are always tough, and heading to Lambeau, even if it's not frozen tundra, makes for a difficult battle.  The Packers have been rather inconsistent at times so the 49ers definitely have more than a puncher's chance.  We'll have plenty more on this battle all week long.

Week 12 vs. Jacksonville: I'll be honest, for much of this season I really did not think particularly highly of the Jaguars.  I don't know why, but they just never struck me as a team that would make much noise.  All of a sudden the Jaguars sit at 5-4, in spite of a 39 point scoring deficit on the season.  Aside from a 20-point victory over the Titans, the Jaguars have won games by 7, 3, 3 and 2 points.  They've beaten one good team (Houston) and they've lost to a bizarro Seahawks.  Suffice to say, I don't really know what to make of the Jaguars.

At this point, offensively the Jaguars are built primarily around the fire hydrant legs of Maurice Jones-Drew.  Normally that'd play to the 49ers advantage in rushing defense.  Of course, the Titans were built primarily around Chris Johnson and handled the 49ers.  So again, who really knows what to expect.  I suppose we can thank the lord it's a home game.

Week 15 @ Philadelphia: Last season the 49ers actually had a chance to spring a big upset of the Eagles.  Mike Martz decided to get cute on offense and the 49ers managed to blow a nine point 4th quarter lead, giving up 23 unanswered points to the Eagles.  Maybe the 49ers still would have lost the game with conservative play-calling, but I'll stick to my interpretation.

The Eagles have been a wildly inconsistent team this season, and it's a bit questionable how good they are.  At this point they're better than the 49ers, but they're still not impressing many people.  Their biggest win was a home win over the Giants that doesn't look nearly as impressive right now.  And any team that loses the Oakland Raiders?  Well, they definitely still have their work cut out for them.  Of course, that doesn't mean they'll be any easier for the 49ers to handle.  Of the 49ers remaining games, this is probably the least likely for them to win.