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NFL playoff picture, Week 15: Clinching scenarios and rooting guide for the 49ers

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We break down the big story lines in Week 15, and what to make of Sunday's schedule. The 49ers get going later this afternoon, but in the meantime, who are we rooting for this week?

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Welcome back to another week of the NFL rooting guide. The San Francisco 49ers can keep their playoff hopes alive with a huge upset of the Seattle Seahawks, but they actually could remain mathematically alive in spite of a loss. It might not be pretty, but I suppose it's something. It makes for an interesting rooting guide this week.

The 49ers are in action at 1:25 p.m. PT when they face the Seahawks at CenturyLink Field. The week already got going with the Arizona Cardinals securing a huge win over the St. Louis Rams. The win did not clinch a playoff spot for the Cardinals, but they are almost a lock to clinch today. The Cardinals clinch a playoff berth if the Eagles-Cowboys game does NOT end in a tie, or the Detroit Lions lose. The odds of an Eagles-Cowboys tie is pretty slim, so look for the Cardinals to clinch Sunday evening. Additionally, the Cardinals Thursday win eliminated the 49ers from winning the division title. Shocking, I know.

The 49ers need the upset on Sunday to keep their playoff hopes alive. That being said, there are still some games worth watching from a playoff perspective.

1. Minnesota Vikings @ Detroit Lions
2. Dallas Cowboys @ Philadelphia Eagles

I listed the Lions first because in reality, if either the Cowboys or Eagles lose on Sunday, the 49ers would benefit. If the 49ers win on Sunday, they move to within a game of the loser of Dallas-Philadelphia, and could move to within a game of Detroit with a loss. The Cowboys final two games are vs. Indianapolis and at Washington. The Eagles final two games are at Washington and at the New York Giants. I think Dallas is more likely to lose their final two, so I'd say we can probably root for the Eagles.

If the 49ers lose on Sunday, they are eliminated from playoff contention if the Lions win. The Lions would at worst remain the six seed with 10 wins, the Seahawks would get their tenth win as well, and the 49ers could not win more than nine games.

Rooting interest: Vikings, Eagles

3. Green Bay Packers @ Buffalo Bills

The Packers can clinch a playoff spot with a win, a Cowboys loss, and if Green Bay clinches the strength of victory tiebreaker over the Cowboys. I am not entirely sure what that would entail. A 49ers win and a Packers loss does keep Green Bay in the 49ers sites as a team to potentially move past. Of course, that also depends on how the tiebreakers shake out, but it's there. And besides, I'm usually fine rooting against the Packers.

Rooting interest: Bills

4a. Pittsburgh Steelers @ Atlanta Falcons
4b. New Orleans Saints @ Chicago Bears
4c. Tampa Bay Buccaneers @ Carolina Panthers

The fact that the Bucs could have the No. 1 pick in the draft, but I think they might still be mathematically alive in the NFC South. I'm not positive because the tiebreakers get a little funky, but the fact tha we don't know for sure if a 2-11 team is eliminated from division content amuses me to no end. If the Steelers, Bears and Bucs win on Sunday, that would leave the Falcons and Saints at 5-9, the Panthers at 4-9-1, and the Bucs at 3-11. With two games remaining, we would at least be guaranteed no better than a 7-win division champion. More importantly, it would keep the dream alive for a six-, or maybe even five-win division champ. In an ugly year for the 49ers, I'll take whatever I can get for amusement.

Rooting interest: Steelers, Bears, Bucs

NFC standings

1. Arizona Cardinals (11-3)
2. Green Bay Packers (10-3)
3. Philadelphia Eagles (9-4)
4. Atlanta Falcons (5-8)

5. Seattle Seahawks (9-4)
6. Detroit Lions (9-4)

7. Dallas Cowboys (9-4)
8. San Francisco 49ers (7-5)
9. New Orleans Saints (5-8)