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49ers vs. Bengals: Why Sunday is a must-win affair for the Niners

Since 2000, only 6 out of 23 teams that won the Super Bowl had a 3-game losing streak during the regular season

San Francisco 49ers v Cincinnati Bengals Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images

After dropping two straight winnable contests, the Niners travel back to the Bay for a matchup with the 3-3 Cincinnati Bengals. The last time these two teams met in December 2021, San Francisco secured an overtime victory with a Jimmy Garoppolo game-winner to Brandon Aiyuk.

That postseason saw both teams in their respective Conference Championship games. For either team to get back to the position to play in the Super Bowl, winning their week 7 matchup could be vital.


Since 2000, only 6 teams (out of 23) that have won the Super Bowl had a three-game losing streak in the regular season.

  • 2021 Rams (week 9, 10 (to SF), 12 (bye week 11))
  • 2012 Ravens (week 13, 14, 15)
  • 2011 Giants (week 10 (to SF), 11, 12, 13)
  • 2009 Saints (week 15, 16, 17 after starting the year 13-0)
  • 2005 Steelers (week 11, 12, 13)
  • 2000 Ravens (week 7, 8, 9)

This obviously doesn’t mean it is impossible for the 49ers to make it to Allegiant Stadium in February if they fall to the Bengals. But championship caliber teams rarely string together three duds in a row.


Every win in the NFL is earned. Any given Sunday (or Monday) you can get the opponent’s best and lose. That’s why the 5-0 start for San Francisco was incredibly important. Another win against a 2022 playoff team Sunday would go even further to help secure a post-season appearance for the Niners, who own the 12-hardest remaining strength of schedule, according to ESPN’s Football Power Index.

With games against Seattle (twice), Jacksonville, Philadelphia, and Baltimore after their bye week, San Francisco cannot take any opponent for granted. The combined winning percentage of teams remaining on their schedule is .561, the fifth-highest mark in the league.

Teams with serious Super Bowl aspirations have to find ways to win against other contenders, rather than just beat up on inferior opponents. These next few weeks may provide a glimpse into how far the Niners can go in the playoffs.


The expansion to seven-teams per conference makes the one-seed even more valuable. Not only is the home-field advantage elevated in the post-season, the impact of a first-round bye week, which provides the opportunity to rest and nurse injuries while the rest of the conference has to play, is immeasurable.

Another loss would nearly shatter possibilities for the NFC one-seed for San Francisco. Although they have the opportunity to steal a game back in their week 13 showdown in Philadelphia, falling to two games behind the Eagles in the conference standings would be demoralizing. Last year’s NFC Champions now stand as the odds-favorite to secure the number one spot (+125), with San Francisco falling to +145.

Time for some good news. The 49ers own a leg up on the other threats in the NFC. Detroit also suffered their second loss of the season on Sunday and the 49ers already own a head-to-head victory over Dallas. Seattle’s remaining schedule is even more difficult than the Niners, and that includes their two divisional bouts.


The pressure isn’t solely on San Francisco in this contest. Cincinnati was a team with Super Bowl dreams as well, but started the year off poorly and now find themselves in last place in a highly competitive AFC North. According to ESPN, their chances of making the playoffs are only 17%, below all three of their divisional foes. They have the number one hardest strength of schedule remaining.

The Bengals aren’t a significantly different team from a year ago. Joe Burrow looked fully healthy for the first time this season last week and now the entire roster has gotten a bye week to heal. With the chips currently stacked against them, no team on Cincinnati’s schedule should be overlooking the capabilities, and desperation, of this squad.

We know San Francisco is feeling the heat after crashing back to earth following their impressive start to the season. At the end of the day, they are still in prime position to win the division, make the playoffs, and potentially get that first round bye and home-field advantage.

It isn’t easy for this fan base to accept failure, and even though the Niners have the highest perceived chance of winning their conference (41.6%), there is reason for concern. Another loss this season is likely inevitable, but it's happening this weekend, at home, against the Bengals would be close to devastating. Everything points to Sunday being a must-win, highly contested game.