Technically, the San Francisco 49ers aren’t mathematically eliminated from the NFC playoff picture. Their loss to the Bills dropped the Niners to 11th in the NFC, while a win would have propelled the team to seventh and the final wild-card spot. Here’s a look at the NFC standings between the teams outside of the playoffs:
8. Arizona Cardinals (6-6)
9. Chicago Bears (5-7)
10. Detroit Lions (5-7)
11. San Francisco 49ers (5-7)
12. Washington Football Team (5-7)
The Vikings currently hold the tiebreaker over the Cardinals, and that’s why they’re the current seventh seed. Washington has the same record as the New York Giants, but New York holds the head-to-head tiebreaker.
Sunday couldn’t have been better for San Francisco. The Cardinals and Bears both lost, but the Niners couldn’t handle their business. A win over Buffalo would have allowed the team to lose against one of their divisional opponents in the final two weeks, but that margin for error went up in smoke after Josh Allen went full Captain America Monday night. There are several scenarios where the Niners could make the playoffs, including one that involves the team being 8-8. They’ll need plenty of help along the way, though.
The most straightforward scenario for the 49ers to make the playoffs is them winning out, the Vikings losing to the Saints Week 16, and one Lions loss against one of the Packers, Titans, Buccaneers, or Vikings. The latter two seem plausible, but San Francisco has to beat Arizona and Seattle without overlooking Washington and Dallas.
The 49ers sneaking in at 8-8 is a lot more realistic than you think, believe it or not. They could lose to Seattle Week 17 and still get in if the Niners beat the Cardinals Week 16, and Arizona loses to the Rams Week 17. Los Angeles could be playing for the No. 1 seed or the NFC West title, so they’ll have something to play for. For this to happen, Minnesota would need to lose to Tampa Bay this coming Sunday and the Saints in Week 16. San Francisco would also have to beat Washington and Dallas.
We’ll get into more scenarios if the 49ers keep winning, but the Lions would have to win out to make the playoffs. After seeing their schedule above, that’s unlikely. Arizona has to beat San Francisco to get in. The Bears must beat both the Vikings and Packers to make the playoffs, while Washington has to beat the 49ers Sunday to have a chance at the wild-card.