Win, and they’re in.
That’s what the 49ers claim to be interested in, though they could make the playoffs for the third season in a row before Monday’s game against the Atlanta Falcons.
A loss Sunday by the Cardinals, who are at Seattle, would clinch a playoff berth for the 49ers. If Arizona loses, it will drop to 9-6entering next week’s regular-season finale against visiting San Francisco. Then the best Arizona could finish would be 10-6 – the worst the 49ers could finish – and San Francisco holds the tiebreaker because of a better division record.
With a win today, the Seahawks would clinch the NFC West and home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs.
Some 49ers have resigned themselves to a return trip to Seattle. San Francisco lost there 29-3 in Week 2. But the 49ers are also the last team to win in Seattle, on Dec. 24, 2011.
“We understand that it’s going to come down to going to Seattle and winning,” safety Donte Whitner said. “No matter what team it is in the NFC, you’re going to have to go to Seattle to win, so that’s the only thing: winning football games and then going up there and beating them in their home stadium.”
The 49ers’ playoff seed will improve if they beat Atlanta on Monday.
The key game Sunday is New Orleans at Carolina, both 10-4. If the Saints win, they will take the NFC South and earn a first-round bye in the playoffs. A win by the Panthers will secure a playoff spot, but they still must win in Week 17 to wrap up the division.
The loser will drop to the No. 6 seed if the 49ers beat the Falcons to slip into the No. 5 spot.
If that scenario holds, the 49ers will be matched in the first round of the playoffs against the winner of the NFC North or NFC East, depending on which has the lower seed.
Those spots, however, are up in the air with five teams still in the mix.
For example, the Bears and Eagles, who play Sunday night, could win their divisions with a victory. The Cowboys, Lions and Packers also remain in contention.