The 49ers not only control their destiny as far as securing a playoff spot, if they win their final two games, they will secure the coveted fifth seed in the NFC. Theres a remote chance they will earn the top seed in the conference.
As it stands, the 49ers have the sixth seed because the two other teams with 10-4 records the Panthers and Saints beat San Francisco earlier this year. But Carolina and New Orleans will play each other this week. The winner likely will go on to win the NFC South and earn the No. 2 seed. Should the 49ers beat the Falcons next Monday night at Candlestick Park and beat Arizona in the finale, the Carolina-New Orleans loser probably will get the sixth seed.
If everything plays out as expected, the fifth seed will be the more coveted spot. If the 49ers are fifth and win their opening-round game, say in Detroit or Chicago, they will avoid having to play at the likely No. 1 seed, Seattle, in the second round.
The best, pie-in-the-sky, aint-gonna-happen scenario for the 49ers is that they win their final two games, the Seahawks drop their final two, and the Saints and Panthers lose at least one more game. That would make the 49ers the NFC West champions, give them a first-round bye and secure the home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
A more plausible path that avoids Seattle? The 49ers get the fifth seed and the Panthers the sixth. If both won in the opening round, San Francisco would head to New Orleans in the second round while Carolina would go to Seattle. The Panthers lost to the Seahawks in Charlotte, N.C., in Week 1, but the score was close, 12-7.
The Panthers and 49ers seem the most likely teams to upset the Seahawks, who have the best chance of obtaining the No. 1 seed.
And if both the Panthers and 49ers won in the second round? That would mean the NFC Championship Game would be at Candlestick Park, in its final season in the NFL.
The old girl may have one more classic in her yet.
Read Matthew Barrows blogs at www.sacbee.com/sf49ers and listen for his reports Tuesdays on ESPN Radio 1320.