The San Francisco 49ers secured their spot in "the tournament" (to quote Frank Gore) with their win over the Atlanta Falcons on Monday Night Football. The win secured a playoff berth, and gave the 49ers a one-game lead over the New Orleans Saints for the No. 5 seed.
There is one more week of NFL action before the playoffs, and just about anything remains possible. The 49ers are in the playoffs, but they could be the No. 1, No. 2, No. 5 or No. 6 seed. If they are one of the first three, that means they technically could still host a playoff game at Candlestick. It is a bit of a long-shot, but it's very possible.
Speaking of long-shots:
Ouch.— Arizona Cardinals (@AZCardinals) December 24, 2013
The 49ers win means the Arizona Cardinals need to beat San Francisco, and hope the Tampa Bay Buccaneers can go into the Superdome and beat the New Orleans Saints. The Cardinals have a realistic shot at beating the 49ers at home. I certainly hope the 49ers win it, but the Cardinals are playing good football. However, even with a win, does anybody really expect the Bucs to go into New Orleans and win? It's possible, but it's a long-shot.
Now that Week 16 is a wrap, here is how the playoff picture looks:
No. 1 Seattle Seahawks 12-3 (NFC West leader)
No. 2 Carolina Panthers 11-4 (NFC South leader)
No. 3 Philadelphia Eagles 9-6 (NFC East leader)
No. 4 Chicago Bears 8-7 (NFC North leader)
No. 5 San Francisco 49ers 11-4 (Wild Card)
No. 6 New Orleans Saints 10-5 (Wild Card)
On the outside looking in
1. Arizona Cardinals (10-5)
2. Dallas Cowboys (8-7)
3. Green Bay Packers (7-7-1)
Now that the 49ers have won, their playoff scenarios are as follows:
No. 1 seed: 49ers beat Cardinals, Seahawks lose to Rams, Panthers lose at Falcons
No. 2 seed: 49ers beat Cardinals, Seahawks lose to Rams, Panthers beat Falcons
No. 5 seed: a) 49ers beat Cardinals, Seahawks beat Rams; b) 49ers lose to Cardinals, Saints lose to Buccaneers
No. 6 seed: 49ers lose to Cardinals, Saints lose to Buccaneers
49ers @ Cardinals
Rams @ Seahawks
Panthers @ Falcons
Buccaneers @ Saints
If I had to rank the possibility of upset among these four matchups, I'd actually list the 49ers first. The 49ers are better than the Cardinals, but of all those teams, I think the Cardinals are playing the best football.
After that, I think the Falcons are the next likely upset. The Falcons showed they are not quite ready to give up, and this season finale gives them some added motivation. If they beat the Panthers and the Saints beat the Bucs, the Saints claim the division by virtue of having a better division record.
The third most likely in my eyes is the Rams over the Seahawks. The Seahawks showed themselves fallible at home with the loss to Arizona. I think the Cardinals are playing better than the Rams, but it gives us a glimmer of hope. I think this game ends up either Rams winning a tight one, or the Seahawks winning in a walk.
I see little to no reason to expect the Bucs to head into the Superdome and beat the Saints. The Saints are just a different team at home than on the road. Upsets are possible, but I'm not seeing it.
NFC in general
Eagles @ Cowboys
Packers @ Bears
These two don't impact the 49ers current seed position, but they do impact the 49ers potential first round opponent. The Cowboys are suddenly without Tony Romo, but the Eagles defense has been shredded by quarterbacks further down the food chain than Kyle Orton (see Cassel, Matt). Meanwhile, the Packers are still not sure if they will have quarterback Aaron Rodgers at their disposal. Everything is up in the air with these two games.