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49ers playoff scenarios: Win and you’re in; lose, and you’ll need help

Breaking down each way the Niners can make the playoffs

Houston Texans v San Francisco 49ers Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images

The 49ers did what they needed to against the Texans. They won. Despite trailing 7-3 at the half, you never felt like San Francisco was going to lose the game. This team will always make it harder on themselves than they have to.

Trey Lance threw an inexcusable interception. Deebo Samuel had a drop that would have led to a first down. The cornerbacks did their usual defensive pass interference dance. Still, the 49ers exploded offensively in the second half while shutting down Houston to win 23-7.

The day seemed like it was headed for a perfect outcome as the Panthers held the lead on the Saints for the majority of the afternoon. Unfortunately, Carolina forgot to score in the second half, and Sam Darnold threw an interception to seal the game. To be fair, you shouldn’t have to rely on Darnold doing anything positive if you need to make the playoffs.

Playoff scenarios for Week 18

We’re heading into the final week of the season, and the 49ers have nine wins with a chance to clinch a playoff berth. But isn’t this what we all expected?

However, San Francisco hasn’t played consistently enough to earn breathing room in the playoff race, which is why we’re discussing potential playoff scenarios and needing a Sam Darnold victory.

Let’s walk through each potential playoff outcome for the Niners. The easiest way for the 49ers to make the playoffs is by beating a team it’s beaten five times in a row. Beat the Rams, and San Francisco is the sixth seed.

We’re going to go through endless hypotheticals, so bear with me. So, let’s say the 49ers beat the Rams, the Saints beat the Falcons, and the Cowboys beat the Eagles, and the Cardinals beat the Seahawks — each of the latter three teams are favored — then San Francisco locks up the sixth seed and will travel to Arizona to face a Cardinals team that. This is my preferred scenario and would be the best case for the 49ers.

The 49ers aren’t guaranteed to play the Cardinals if they win. However, they’re locked into the sixth seed with a win. If Seattle upsets Arizona on the road, then San Francisco travels to Dallas to take on the Cowboys, who just lost their deep ball threat in Michael Gallup for the season.

Can the 49ers still get in with a loss?

If the 49ers lose to the Rams, there are a couple of ways for them to get into the playoffs. Each involves the Saints losing. San Francisco clinches the sixth seed with a loss if New Orleans and Philadelphia lose.

The Falcons showed some fight on Sunday against the Bills and will be at home. The Falcons beat the Saints 27-25 in New Orleans on November 7 as 6.5-point underdogs — the same spread for Week 18. So Atlanta will be primed for the spoiler role despite being eliminated from the playoffs.

San Francisco also needs the Eagles to lose to the Cowboys in this scenario. Dallas is only a 2.5-point favorite. The Cowboys will lose a spot in the NFC standings with a loss, so they should be motivated to win.

If each team loses, the 49ers are headed to Tampa Bay to face Tom Brady and an Antonio Brown-less Buccaneers squad. Philly would be the 2-seed and travel to Los Angeles, while Kyler Murray and the Cardinals would travel to Dallas to take on Dak Prescott.

Let’s say the Saints and 49ers lose, but the Eagles win. San Francisco would be locked into the seventh seed while the Eagles jump up to No. 6. The Niners would play the Rams for the third time, and the Eagles would face the Bucs.

If the Saints win and the 49ers lose, the offseason starts for the Niners.

So, to recap, a 49er win means that they’re in the playoffs. But, they can also clinch by the Saints losing to the Falcons. A few other games determine who the 49ers would potentially face, but they control their destiny — which is all you can ask.