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NFC Playoff Picture: Why the 49ers want the #2 seed

It’s all about the path of least resistance

Tampa Bay Buccaneers v San Francisco 49ers Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images

We’re now through 14 weeks of the NFL season, and the cream of the crop has established itself at the top. It feels as though the Philadelphia Eagles are locked into the #1 seed after a pair of dominating back-to-back wins. However, every other spot is up for grabs. Let’s take a look at the conference standings after Week 14.

#1 Seed - Philadelphia Eagles (12-1, NFC East leader) *Clinched playoff berth

Philly boat raced the Titans and Giants in back-to-back weeks. And while each team has its flaws, they are playoff contenders and showed zero signs of competing against Jalen Hurts and a high-powered Eagles offense.

Philadelphia has a big game coming up on Christmas Eve, but it’s unlikely they’ll be tested otherwise this season. The Eagles are the only team in the conference to clinch a playoff berth.

Next three opponents: Bears, Cowboys, Saints

#2 Seed - Minnesota Vikings (10-3, NFC North leader)

How Sunday’s game against the Linos went is how most of the Vikings' games have gone this season. They’re used to getting all the breaks and having the ball bounce their way. Minnesota didn’t jump out to an early lead this time around.

But I don’t think they’re frauds. Kirk Cousins played well. Justin Jefferson is a terror to deal with. The Vikings will win in the Wild-Card round. But the Vikings have serious issues defensively, which makes it difficult to take them seriously as a #2 seed.

Next three opponents: Colts, Giants, Packers

#3 seed - San Francisco 49ers (9-4, NFC West leader)

The Niners have done nothing but impress during their six-game winning streak. They beat Tom Brady by four touchdowns, shut down the flash-in-the-pan Dolphins, shut out the Saints, and scored 38 against the Cardinals on the road after erasing a deficit to beat the Chargers.

All while battling injuries and facing their usual in-game adversity. Now, it’s on Brock Purdy and the offense to weather the storm until Deebo Samuel returns from an MCL and ankle sprain.

How the defense and special teams have played will take pressure off the offense to light up the scoreboard. If San Francisco gets the #2 seed, they are in business. To me, that’s more favorable than the top seed as you’d avoid Dallas or Tampa (most likely Dallas), who many believe to be the superior team to the Vikings.

The 49ers' path to the NFC Championship would be the one of least resistance from the #2 seed. If all goes right, Dallas would beat the Eagles, and the Niners would have a home game.

I’d rather play Washington and Minnesota at home as the #2 seed than the Eagles' path. We’ll see how everything shakes out, but the Niners are right where they want to be.

Next three opponents: Seahawks, Commanders, Raiders

#4 Seed - Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-7, NFC South leaders)

The Bucs were banged up but still looked slow, lifeless, and outclassed by the 49ers Sunday. That game told us Tampa Bay isn’t a contender and is fortunate to be in a lousy division.

A division that they somehow could still lose. No matter who wins the NFC South, I doubt they will get beyond the Wild-Card round. The Bucs were as unimpressive as it gets in Week 14.

Next three opponents: Bengals, Cardinals, Panthers

#5 seed - Dallas Cowboys (10-3, NFC East leader)

The Cowboys had a scare against Houston and could have easily lost that game had the Texans not been tanking. Dallas is a difficult team to figure out. One week, they look like world-beaters. The next, they are down the entire game to Davis Mills.

There is far too much talent on that team, so I refuse to believe they won’t get it together when the time comes. Dallas is a scary team and poses a significant threat to the Eagles and the Cowboys.

Mike McCarthy is still their head coach, Dak Prescott has to prove he can get it done in the big moment, and their offensive line is so beaten up that it could cost them.

Next three opponents: Jaguars, Eagles, Titans

#6 Seed - Washington Commanders (7-5-1)

Washington has a better divisional record than New York, so they are the higher seed in the conference. The Commanders are coming off a bye but still have plenty of question marks. Will Chase Young return for the final month and make an impact?

There’s no way you put Carson Wentz back into the lineup, but teams have done stranger things in the past. We’ll get to see Washington firsthand in a week. After Terry McClaurin, there aren’t enough playmakers to justify the Commanders as a legitimate threat.

#7 Seed - New York Giants (7-5-1)

Hats off to Brian Daboll for the coaching job him and his staff have done this season, but his Giants are devoid of players that can win 1-on-1.

The Giants surpassed 20 points for the first time in four games against the Eagles and still lost by 26. Daniel Jones has a limited skillset, and I’d be surprised at this point if New York held onto that final playoff spot. Unfortunately for Daboll and company, their magic appears to have run out.

Next three opponents: Commanders, Vikings, Colts

On the outside, looking in

8. Seattle Seahawks (7-6)

9. Detroit Lions (6-7)

10. Green Bay Packers (5-8, 4-5 NFC, strength of victory tiebreaker > CAR)

11. Carolina Panthers (5-8, 4-5 NFC, 3-1 NFC South, strength of victory tiebreaker < GB)

The 49ers have a chance to crush the Seahawks' soul Thursday night, who then play the Chiefs and the Jets. Geno Smith makes for a great story, but Seattle’s defense is lousy.

The Lions are a team that I can see sneaking into the playoffs. They have the firepower, are getting better on defense, and have a favorable schedule with the Jets, Panthers, Bears, and Packers remaining.