The 49ers can enter the playoffs anywhere from the No. 1 seed in the NFC to the No. 3 seed, depending on how they, the Vikings, and the Eagles do on Sunday.
The Vikings will end their season in Chicago against the Bears. Minnesota needs a win to stay alive for the No. 2 seed. The Eagles will kick off at the same time as the 49ers on Sunday afternoon against the Giants with the No. 1 seed in the balance.
Regardless of what happens in Chicago or Philadelphia, the 49ers can best set themselves up with a win over the Arizona Cardinals.
With so much that can change on Sunday, here’s a special By The Numbers with a quick 49ers history lesson on their postseason success from each of the three seeds they can enter the postseason at.
The 49ers seed with a win over the Cardinals and a Giants win over the Eagles on Sunday. In the 49ers' 26 playoff appearances, they’ve appeared as the No. 1 seed in the NFC nine times, more than any other seed in franchise history.
The first No. 1 seed appearance for the 49ers came in 1981, behind third-year head coach Bill Walsh and third-year quarterback Joe Montana, with a 13-3 record, setting a then-franchise record for wins in a season. The 49ers would go on to defeat the Giants, Cowboys, and Bengals in the playoffs to win the franchise's first Super Bowl.
The 49ers' most recent appearance as the No. 1 seed came just three years ago when the 13-3 49ers won the NFC West and sealed the top spot in the last game of the season in Seattle. They could handle both the Vikings and the Packers before losing to the Chiefs in the Super Bowl.
Obviously, this would be the best outcome for the 49ers on Sunday. With the No. 1 seed, the 49ers would not only earn home-field advantage throughout but would be the only team in the NFC with a bye week. In addition, with players like Christian McCaffrey, Deebo Samuel, and Elijah Mitchell recovering from injury, a week off could do wonders for the 49ers.
The 49ers seed with a win over the Cardinals or a Bears win over the Vikings, and an Eagles win over the Cowboys. The second-most common seed in franchise history happens to be the No. 2 seed, with the 49ers making seven playoff appearances as the second-best NFC team. This includes the franchise's first playoff appearance and the other two Super Bowl appearances.
The 49ers are 9-6 in 15 games in the No. 2 spot, with three of the nine wins coming in 1988 in what was Walsh’s last Super Bowl and season with the 49ers. Minnesota and Chicago didn’t stand a chance in the first two rounds, with the 49ers outscoring the two teams 62-12 en route to the franchise's third Super Bowl appearance.
Jim Breech and the Bengals left too much time on the clock for Joe Cool to drive 92 yards in 2:46, hitting John Taylor in the endzone for ring No. 3 and their only title with the 49ers as the No. 2 seed.
The 49ers' most recent occurrence as the No. 2 was Jim Harbaugh’s lone Super Bowl appearance in 2012 and the franchise's first Super Bowl loss.
This might be the likeliest spot for the 49ers to enter the playoffs, not at the fault of their own. If the Eagles do what they should and defeat a Giants team they beat by 26 just last month, the 49ers' result won’t matter for the No. 1 seed. However, the 49ers will need a win to ensure, at minimum, the No. 2 seed, with Minnesota the favorite to beat Chicago Sunday morning.
The 49ers seed with a loss against the Cardinals and a Vikings win over the Bears. This is the worst-case result for the 49ers on Sunday and probably the most problematic heading into the postseason.
This would mean that Minnesota took care of Chicago on Sunday morning and that David Blough and the 4-12 Arizona Cardinals defeated the 49ers, relegating the 49ers to the No. 3 seed.
The 49ers don’t have much of a history in the three-seed, officially making the No. 3 seed just once in franchise history. They were the No. 3 in both the 1971 and 1972 seasons, but the NFL didn’t have official seeding until 1975, and the home teams from 1970-1974 were decided in a yearly rotation and not based on record.
The 49ers are just 1-3 in those three appearances as the No. 3 seed, the most recent being the 1986 season when the No. 3 seed 49ers went to New York and lost 49-3 to the No. 1 seed Giants. The one win from the No. 3 seed is the lowest win total the 49ers have out of any other spot in the playoffs, being even less than the two franchise wins the 49ers have out of the No. 6 seed (both coming last season).
The dropoff from the No. 2 seed to the No. 3 seed is a steep one. Instead of being guaranteed two home games, the 49ers would only be guaranteed one, with a potential trip to Minnesota in the divisional round if both the 49ers and Vikings win their wild-card games. The 49ers would like to secure as many playoff home games as they can, so if Minnesota wins Sunday morning, Sunday afternoon turns into a must-win.