Week 17 is in the books. We’ll look ahead to Week 18 and the countless scenarios that involve the 49ers.
Football Outsiders playoff projections predict the Niners to be the #2 seed. San Francisco has a 20 percent chance at the top seed, a 75 percent chance at the second seed, and a 4.5 percent chance of obtaining the third seed.
How can the Niners obtain the #1 seed?
Six outcomes in Week 18 would result in the 49ers as the #1 seed. Each of them is straightforward and requires the following: San Francisco beats Arizona, and New York goes on the road to beat Philadelphia.
Numerous other ways involve the Cowboys or Eagles being the #2 seed, but neither of those matters to us.
How the 49ers would wind up as the #2 seed
The most likely outcome is the #2 seed for the Niners. There are 12 scenarios in Week 18 that would slot San Francisco into the second seed. Win, and the #2 seed is yours.
The most plausible matchup would come against Aaron Rodgers and the Packers. Here’s how that would happen:
49ers beat the Cardinals
Packers beat the Lions
Eagles beat the Giants
Let’s pretend San Francisco slips up against Arizona for whatever reason. They could still secure the #2 seed. The Giants, Cowboys, Bears, and Packers would all have to win for that to happen.
That’s just one outcome, though. There are a couple of others where the 49ers could lose, but another upset, such as the Lions beating the Packers, would keep San Francisco at #2.
In two weeks, the 49ers could face the Packers, the Seahawks, and the Lions. Between the 12 outcomes that have the Niners as a #2 seed, four involve Aaron Rodgers coming to Levi’s Stadium, another four include the Seattle Seahawks coming to the Bay Area, and the final four would mean Jared Goff faces the 49ers in the playoffs. Each team faces a must-win situation.
The 49ers have the tiebreaker over the Vikings based on having the better winning percentage in conference games.
The unlikely outcome of the #3 seed
The 49ers would have to fall to the Cardinals, and the Vikings would need to beat the Bears. While it’s reasonable to believe Kirk Cousins and that offense would score at will against the Bears, a lot would have to go wrong for the Niners to slip up against a hopeless Arizona team.
There’s a reason projections are under five percent. Nick Bosa, Arik Armstead, and Fred Warner aren’t losing to the Cardinals. Not after nearly falling to Jarett Stidham.
The rest of the playoff picture
In the hunt:
8 - Detroit Lions 8-8
9 -Green Bay Packers 8-8
The Seahawks need a win and a Packers loss to the Lions. That would result in a playoff showdown between the two divisional rivals in Seattle and San Francisco. A Seahawks victory over the Rams would eliminate Detroit.
Detroit’s only hope is a win against Green Bay and a Seahawks loss since Seattle beat the Lions head-to-head earlier this season.
These are all straightforward. If the Packers win against the Lions, they’re in the playoffs, and we’ll hear how “nobody wants to play them” despite their opponent being a team likely in the midst of a 10-game winning streak.
If both the Seahawks and Packers win, Green bay will leap Seattle as they own the better conference record. Seattle has losses to the Falcons, Saints, and Panthers. Those losses to non-playoff teams could keep them out of the tournament.