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NFL Playoff Picture: 49ers, Saints Semi-Even

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The 49ers loss to Arizona stung on a variety of levels, with the NFL playoff implications fitting right in. The 49ers loss coupled with the Saints win dropped the 49ers into a tie with New Orleans for the number two seed in the NFC playoff picture. The 49ers do hold the tiebreaker edge with a better conference record.

The Saints initially found themselves in quite a dogfight Sunday morning against the Tennessee Titans. The game was 6-3 at the half and the Titans actually went into the fourth quarter with a 10-9 lead. The Titans offense was struggling immensely, but their defense stepped up its game for three quarters against the Saints.

Unfortunately, the NFL plays four quarters and the Saints are incredibly dangerous. In a matter of minutes, the Saints offense exploded and put a pair of touchdowns on the board, taking a 22-10 lead with seven minutes left. The Titans kept it interesting as they grabbed a quick touchdown of their own on a 40-yard Jake Locker pass to Nate Washington to cut the lead to 22-17. The Titans defense stiffened up and gave the offense a couple of opportunities, but they could not punch in a game-winning score. Tennessee actually had two opportunities inside the Saints five yard line, but fell short on a Locker incompletion and then a Locker sack.

The 49ers host Pittsburgh in Week 14 while the Saints travel to Minnesota to face the Vikings. In spite of some of the 49ers recent struggles, I like their chances against Pittsburgh at home. Of course, I also like the Saints chances in Minnesota. Even though New Orleans is not quite the same on the road as they are at the Superdome, I think playing indoors against the Vikings gives the Saints a boost back up.

If the 49ers do not get things back in gear, they could find themselves playing a first round game. It would be at home, which is a significant benefit, but it is still one more game. The Lions and Falcons both won, while the Bears lost, leaving Detroit and Atlanta in control of the two wild card spots. The wildcard remains fairly wide open as even the Seahawks and Cardinals still have a slim shot. One of them would have to win out (they face each other to close the regular season) to have a shot, but sometimes anything is possible.

You have to think thought that the NFL is at least a little bit intrigued by a rematch between the 49ers and Lions. Let's hope it happens in round two instead of round one. How does that sound?

Here are some pertinent games coming up in Week 15:

San Francisco 49ers vs. Pittsburgh Steelers
New Orleans Saints @ Minnesota Vikings
Detroit Lions @ Oakland Raiders
Atlanta Falcons vs. Jacksonville Jaguars
New York Giants vs. Washington Redskins
Dallas Cowboys @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Chicago Bears vs. Seattle Seahawks
Arizona Cardinals vs. Cleveland Browns