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Breaking down the NFC playoff picture: The 49ers are up to 9th

The Niners play the Vikings, who are ahead of them, as well as the Falcons, who are tied with San Francisco.

Los Angeles Rams v San Francisco 49ers Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images

Had the 49ers lost to the Rams, the vibe around here, social media, and all things Niners-related would be much different. But, thankfully, the team handled business, and Kyle Shanahan beat his little brother for the fifth consecutive time.

Because of that, it’s OK to discuss the “P” word. The playoffs are no longer a longshot. Now, they’re not only attainable, but it’s fair to assume they’re expected. Does that seem like an overreaction after one game? I’m sure it does. But, in a league that’s fickle and changes week to week, the 49ers went from an afterthought to a contender overnight.

The Packers, Cardinals, Cowboys, and Buccaneers are all divisional leaders. And while it might be premature, I think we can safely project each of those teams to make the playoffs. Of course, Dak Prescott and Kyler Murray’s health will be something to monitor as the season goes along. Still, those teams have a comfortable lead with head-to-head wins over teams below them.

Where it gets interesting is from the 5-seed and on. The Rams are 7-3 but trending in the wrong direction. They’re uber-talented and are likely to make the playoffs. After the 49ers beat them Monday night, a friend of the podcast said, “McVay turns into a pumpkin around Thanksgiving every year. People forget that.”

Los Angeles has now lost two NFC West games. They’ll have a bye week before facing the Packers, Cardinals, Seahawks, Vikings, Ravens, and 49ers. None of those games will be “gimmes” for McVay outside of playing the Jaguars at home.

The last two spots

OK, let’s say Los Angeles figures it out and cements themselves as the 5-seed. That leaves seven teams to claim the final two spots in the playoff race. We’re heading into Week 11, so keep in mind that these standings will fluctuate weekly.

Unlike the Saints and Panthers, the six and seven seeds, the 49ers have a quarterback. I’m the biggest Cam Newton fan on the planet but expecting him to lead a putrid Panthers offense is a tall task at this stage in his career.

Carolina has five losses and still has to play Atlanta, Tampa Bay twice, Buffalo, and New Orleans. Who knows which version of the Dolphins or Washington will show up, but getting to double-digit wins won’t be easy for the Panthers. Nine wins for Carolina would be a surprise.

The Saints are 5-4, with Trevor Siemian under center and Taysom Hill running routes and receiving third-down targets. If that doesn’t sum up the New Orleans situation, then I don’t know what will. Their remaining schedule includes the Eagles, who are a competitive team, Bills, Cowboys, Bucs, Panthers, and Falcons.

New Orleans will have to outscore their opponents, and that won’t be easy — especially if Alvin Kamara is in and out of their lineup. The Saints should lose seven games, and that’s before we get to the toss-up contests. I think they fall out of the race when it’s all said and done.

The two teams, I think, make it

It’s harsh but fair to call the NFC a disaster. After the Rams, has any team shown they can be trusted? I lean towards the Vikings and 49ers as the two teams that’ll sneak into the playoffs. Both teams have made several games much more difficult than they’ve had to be, though.

Minnesota is 4-5. The following two teams on their schedule are the Packers and 49ers. After that, they face Detroit, Pittsburgh, Chicago, Los Angeles, Green Bay again, and Chicago once more.

He’s still Kirk Cousins, and he proves that every week. The variance of outcomes when Cousins drops back to throw is unlike any other QB in the NFL. I see Minnesota splitting their final eight games and finishing 9-8. Nine wins, based on how everyone else is playing, should be enough to make the playoffs.

This brings us to the home team. A couple of weeks ago, I predicted the 49ers would win ten games despite not giving us any logical reason to believe so. San Francisco’s talent and style of play tend to wear on opponents. As Jordan Elliot wrote earlier on Tuesday, the 49ers are the only team that has gotten the best of themselves this season.

At 4-5, the Niners all but control their own destiny. Games they have to win if you want to make the playoffs: Jaguars, Falcons, Texans. That would mean the home team wins their games at Levi’s Stadium.

That puts San Francisco at seven wins. Seattle isn’t a good team right now, but you expect Russell Wilson’s finger to get healthier, and they’re always a tough out. The Bengals and Titans are coin flip games on the road where the 49ers could very well be favored. So that leaves the Rams and the Vikings.

Nine feels more realistic than ten. Either way, the 49ers' last-place schedule gives them a great opportunity to find a way into the playoffs.

On the outside, looking in

The Falcons are 4-5 and fresh off a 40-point drubbing to the Cowboys. Atlanta faces New England on Thursday night, where they’re touchdown underdogs at home. They also have Tampa Bay, Carolina, the Niners, Buffalo, and New Orleans. I cannot take the Falcons seriously, knowing that they have one of the worst defensive lines in the NFL.

Philly has six losses, which leaves them with little to no margin for error. Jalen Hurts is not a good quarterback, making it easy to believe the Eagles will fall out of contention. However, they might have the easiest remaining schedule among all teams listed. Philadelphia has the Saints, the Giants twice, Jets, Washington twice, and Dallas.

Who do you predict to make the playoffs in the NFC?