Even with all of the injuries, distractions and COVID-19 related setbacks, the San Francisco 49ers are very much in the race to secure one of the seven NFC playoff berths.
The Niners ended their three-game losing streak with an emotional 23-20 win over their NFC West divisional rivals, the Los Angeles Rams. San Francisco has played the majority of the season without several of its top players, including Nick Bosa, George Kittle, Richard Sherman, Jimmy Garoppolo, Deebo Samuel, Dee Ford and Raheem Mostert, to name a few.
Now, with the 49ers unsure of where they will play their home games for the rest of the 2020 season, they sit just a game out of a spot in the postseason. Their chances depend on what happens at quarterback. Garoppolo has been out since the Week 7 loss to the Seattle Seahawks and is eligible to be activated off the IR this week after missing the mandatory three games. If Mullens is the starter, the Niners are toast.
Kittle has an outside chance to return over the coming weeks, while Brandon Aiyuk and D.J. Jones should be ready for the upcoming Monday Night Football tilt against the Buffalo Bills. Head coach Kyle Shanahan has his team in a position to make an unexpected run to the playoffs.
Here is how the NFC playoff picture looks after Sunday’s games:
- New Orleans Saints 9-2
- Green Bay Packers 8-3
- Seattle Seahawks 7-3 (play on MNF)
- New York Giants 4-7 (NFC East leaders)
- Rams 7-4
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers 7-5
- Arizona Cardinals 6-5
- Minnesota Vikings 5-6
- Chicago Bears 5-6
- 49ers 5-6
The Vikings and Bears get the tiebreaker over the Niners because they each have a better winning percentage in conference games.
San Francisco will need to get to at least 9-7 to get in, which means, at a minimum, the team needs to win four out of its final five contests.
Of the six teams vying for the final three wild card spots, here is how they rank in terms of strength of schedule:
Arizona: vs. Rams, @ Giants, vs. Philadelphia Eagles, vs. 49ers, @ Rams
Chicago: vs. Lions, vs. Houston Texans, @ Vikings, @ Jaguars, vs. Packers
Tampa Bay: (easiest): BYE, vs. Vikings, @ Atlanta Falcons, vs. Lions, vs. Falcons
The Bucs should be able to take advantage of a soft schedule down the stretch, but nothing is guaranteed in the NFL, except a long-term injury to a 49er each week, as has been the case in 2020. Every other team in the hunt will have to play each other at some point over the final five weeks, with L.A. and Arizona squaring off twice.
After a dreadful 1-5 start, Minnesota has turned it around, winning four out of its last five. The Vikings will be underdogs against Tampa Bay and New Orleans, but if they can pull off an upset in one of those contests, they’ll be in a position to get to nine wins. The other NFC North team in the bunch is the Chicago Bears, who have lost five in a row. Matt Nagy’s squad is in a tailspin, and with significant issues on offense, they will likely be on the outside looking in.
If the Niners can get Garoppolo back and defeat the Bills next week, they will have back-to-back games against NFC East teams and have a good shot at improving to 8-6 going into their final two games.
It won’t be easy, but the 49ers are getting healthy at the right time to make a late push. Despite all of the setbacks the team has faced this season, Kyle Shanahan’s team has a chance to get into the playoffs.
Which of the six teams do you think will get into the playoffs?