The San Francisco 49ers head into their final week of the 2016 regular season sitting at 2-13, and holding the No. 2 pick in the 2017 NFL Draft. The Cleveland Browns sit atop the draft board at 1-14, while the Chicago Bears and Jacksonville Jaguars are a game back of the 49ers at 3-12.
The 49ers are home facing the Seattle Seahawks to close out the season. If the 49ers lose to the Seahawks, they would need the Browns to win on the road against the Pittsburgh Steelers. An upset is always possible, and this weekend could be an interesting one. The Steelers beat the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday, clinching the AFC North. The Steelers also clinched the No. 3 seed. They are two games back of Oakland, and so it is impossible for them to move up to No. 2. Additionally, Ian Rapoport tweeted that they are locked in at No. 3 because they hold the tiebreaker over the AFC South-winning Houston Texans.
Could we see the Steelers rest starters next week against the Browns in advance of their wild card round opener? Whether they do or not, we will know the result of the Browns-Steelers game by the time 49ers-Seahawks kick off. If the Browns win, I’m all for tank-a-palooza. But if the Browns lose, I’m all for actually winning another game and beating the Seahawks. The 49ers could drop into a tie with the Bears and/or Jaguars, but San Francisco has locked up the strength of schedule tiebreaker against both teams.
Entering Monday Night Football, the 49ers SOS is .502, the Bears is .519, and the Jaguars is .530. 12 of the 16 games on the 49ers schedule of opponents are a .500 wash. The Cardinals & Rams, Panthers & Bucs, Saints & Falcons, Patriots & Dolphins, and Jets & Bills all square off, and barring a tie, the 49ers will gain a win and a loss from each game (two wins and two losses for Cardinals-Rams). That applies to the Bears and Jaguars schedule as well, which means only the two intra-conference positional matchups (49ers facing last place team in NFC East and NFC North) will matter for each team. For the 49ers, that includes Bears and Cowboys. The Bears would lose in this scenario, which helps the 49ers SOS anyway. It is mathematically impossible for the 49ers to lose the SOS tiebreaker to the Bears and Jaguars.
I bring all this up to say, yes, there is a scenario to root for the 49ers, even if you are a draft pick fiend. A 49ers win would snap the Seahawks four-season streak of 10+ win seasons, and I would certainly be down for something like that. Now, if the Browns win, all bets are off. But if the Browns lose, I’ll be rooting like crazy to see the 49ers embarrass the Seahawks before the playoffs. It’s all I’ve got at this point!