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NFL playoff picture update: Time to play spoiler for the AFC South

The 49ers have a chance to make some noise these final three weeks.

NFL: San Francisco 49ers at Houston Texans Shanna Lockwood-USA TODAY Sports

The San Francisco 49ers won’t be participating in the 2018 NFL playoffs, but they can very much impact how the playoff race shapes up in both conferences. Considering the context of the 49ers season to date, I don’t think I could be much more excited for these final three games.

The 49ers close out the season with games at home against the Tennessee Titans and Jacksonville Jaguars, and then a Week 17 finale on the road against the Los Angeles Rams. All three teams hold playoff spots at the moment. The 9-4 Rams lead the NFC West, the 9-4 Jaguars lead the AFC South, and the 8-5 Titans hold one of the two AFC wild card berths.

Jimmy Garoppolo has emerged as a presence for the 49ers, with two wins and throwing for more yards in his first two starts than any post-merger 49ers quarterback. I don’t know anybody that isn’t at least a little bit excited for what this means for the future. That being said, the first two starts came against shaky teams in the Chicago Bears and Houston Texans. Both have defenses that can make plays, but both are inconsistent at best this year due to injuries and other issues.

The Jaguars, Titans, and Rams all present significant challenges that will give us even more of an idea of what Garoppolo can bring to the table. The games are about more than just Garoppolo, but given his upcoming free agency and the importance of the quarterback position, the focus will be on how he performs these final three games. And facing stronger teams than we’ve seen in the 49ers three wins to date will provide a necessary challenge.

In the meantime, here is how the playoff picture looks in the NFC and AFC.

NFC playoff picture

1. Philadelphia Eagles (11-2)
2. Minnesota Vikings (10-3)
3. Los Angeles Rams (9-4)
4. New Orleans Saints (9-4)

5. Carolina Panthers (9-4)
6. Atlanta Falcons (8-5)

In the hunt: Seattle Seahawks (7-6), Green Bay Packers (7-6), Dallas Cowboys (7-6), Arizona Cardinals (6-7)

AFC playoff picture

1. Pittsburgh Steelers (11-2)
2. New England Patriots (10-2)
3. Jacksonville Jaguars (9-4)
4. Kansas City Chiefs (7-6)

5. Tennessee Titans (8-5)
6. Buffalo Bills (7-6)

In the hunt: Baltimore Ravens (7-6), Los Angeles Chargers (7-6), Oakland Raiders (6-7)