Dig deep, Faithful. Now’s the time to earn your nickname.
The Niners are facing a difficult stretch of three games. You know that, but you might not realize exactly how unusually tough this trio of tiffs will be.
Mentioned this just now on @KNBR and story for Friday: #49ers about to play the toughest 3-game stretch this late in the season in NFL history. No team has played three straight games against teams with an .800+ winning percentage this late in the season in the Super Bowl era.— Nick Wagoner (@nwagoner) November 19, 2019
So my message is simple. The Niners are almost certain to lose some or all of these games.
They might lose one, two, or all three. And there’s nothing wrong with any of those results.
Three losses would make the top seed in the NFC complicated, especially since these teams are the competition. But even that would leave the team 9-4, with games against Atlanta, the L.A. Rams and Seattle left, making an 11-5 finish likely.
Winning one of the next three feels like a reasonable goal, and it would put the Niners in a very strong position, heading for 12-4. And winning two or all three of the games would be an outstanding achievement, especially given the team’s current injuries.
By playoff time, Joe Staley and Mike McGlinchey should be healed and reintegrated, with a tested-by-fire Daniel Brunskill behind them. Kittle and Juszczyk will be back, paving the way for the Niner’s run game and providing a reliable set of pass targets.
Matt Breida, Dee Ford, Emmanuel Sanders, and Akhello Witherspoon will be back, adding top-line talent. And the team will have seen the schemes of all of their most dangerous NFC post-season rivals, without showing them their full strength.
Meanwhile, the Saints will be sharpening their iron against Tennessee, Atlanta, and Carolina (twice). Green Bay faces the Vikings, but otherwise Washington, the New York Giants, Chicago, and Detroit. Buffalo might push the Ravens, but otherwise, they’ll see the Jets, Pittsburgh, and Cleveland — who they’ve already lost to this year.
That sounds like an advantage to those teams over the Niners, except that coordinators who are good at game planning, like Saleh and Shanahan, tend to win near-term rematches.
So relax. The 49ers will almost certainly make the playoffs, even if they lose 2 or 3 of the next three games, and the very toughness of the schedule will set them up well for the post-season.