Life is not that comfortable for the San Francisco 49ers heading into the second-to-last week of the regular season.
The team is still smarting from a game they let get away from them last Thursday against the Titans. After it was over, the Titans had won with a last-second field goal, there was considerable gnashing of teeth — and one unfortunate liked tweet – about what to do about starting quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo.
Where just two weeks ago he was being heralded for managing a run-heavy attack that had vaulted the 49ers to five wins in a span of six games to get to 8-6 and a longshot hope of catching the Rams and Cardinals for the NFC West title.
Now, at 8-7, the division dreams are dead and the future for Jimmy G may already be decided. The embattled quarterback is dealing with a torn ligament in his thumb, an injury that occurred in the first half and probably explains some of the terrible throws he made against the Titans.
But now his status is day-to-day and it may come down to rookie Trey Lance to save the season.
The 49ers, sitting in the No. 6 slot in the NFC Standings, can clinch a playoff berth Sunday
The 49ers may not know who their quarterback is going to be on Sunday when they face the Houston Texans, but they do know the opportunity that awaits them.
With a victory over the Texans and a New Orleans Saints loss to the Carolina Panthers, the 49ers clinch a playoff berth.
The 49ers were able to be in a position to clinch on Sunday despite the loss to the Titans by virtue of New Orleans’ Monday night loss to the Miami Dolphins. That dropped the Saints to 7-8, a game behind the 49ers.
The Texans, however, will not be a pushover for the 49ers, especially if Lance is thrust into the starting role after having not played in any significant fashion for several weeks. The Texans pulled a big upset over the Los Angeles Chargers last week, have won two games in a row for the first time all season, and are 3-3 in their past six games, which includes a victory over the same Titans team that just handed the 49ers a loss.
Even with a 2-0 finish, the 49ers cannot finish any higher than the No. 6 seed
The one thing the loss to the Titans did last week was take the 49ers out of the conversation for the NFC West title. It would have been a long shot even with a victory last week, but now it is a statistical impossibility, as is any chance of moving up to the No. 5 seed.
The 49ers can clinch a playoff berth with wins in both of their final two games, regardless of what the Saints do in their final two. But even if the 49ers finish 10-7, and the Arizona Cardinals lose their final two games to also finish 10-7, the Cardinals would be the No. 5 seed based on their 2-0 record against the 49ers in head-to-head meetings this season.
But as long as the 49ers and Philadelphia Eagles (8-7) finish with no worse than the same record, the 49ers would get the tiebreaker advantage based on their Week 2 head-to-head victory and remain the No. 6 seed.
There are still teams capable of knocking the 49ers out of the playoff picture
One of the big advantages the 49ers have toward remaining either the 6- or 7-seed in the playoffs is their head-to-head record overall their main competitors, except the Saints. The 49ers have beaten the three remaining 7-8 teams this season other than New Orleans, giving them the tiebreaker advantage over Philadelphia, the Minnesota Vikings, and the Atlanta Falcons.
If the 49ers win just one of their final two — and critically, the loss comes against the Los Angeles Rams and not the Texans — the only two teams capable of finishing ahead of them would be the Eagles if they win out, and the Saints, if they win out.
If that scenario happened, where the Eagles are 10-7 and the No. 6 seed and the Saints and 49ers both finish 9-8, the Saints would claim the No. 7 seed by virtue of a better NFC record, assuming the 49ers’ loss comes against the Rams, dropping their conference record to 6-6. The Saints, in this scenario, would be 7-5 in the conference.
Because the 49ers are playing an AFC opponent this week, they cannot put the Saints away simply by winning to go to 9-7. The Saints, should they win Sunday, would still be alive to catch the 49ers in Week 18.
Stats courtesy of Pro Football Reference