Everything seems so bleak in 49ersville after the team looked like anything but a playoff squad in its recent 19-3 loss to the Seahawks. And yet … San Francisco is very much alive mathematically when it comes to the postseason and, thanks to Arizona’s loss to the Falcons today, still has an outside shot at the division.
Winning the NFC West, however, almost certainly would require a win over the Seahawks (more on that below). And that seems like a massive long shot considering how thoroughly the 49ers were thumped by Seattle at home.
Here’s where things stand with four games left:
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NFC West: Cardinals, 9-3
NFC North: Packers, 9-3
NFC East: Eagles, 9-3
NFC South: Falcons, 5-7
IN THE HUNT
CARDINALS: Dec. 7 vs. Chiefs; Dec. 11 at Rams; Dec. 21 vs. Seahawks; Dec. 28 at 49ers
Comment: Drew Stanton looked terrible today (two interceptions, 79 passer rating) and the Cardinals have a rough schedule that includes three teams with winning records and a Rams squad that has knocked off Seattle, San Francisco and Denver in recent weeks and is feeling mighty confident. If the 49ers beat Arizona and finish with the same record, the first tiebreaker is division records. The Cardinals currently have one loss in the division, the 49ers three. The next tiebreaker are the teams’ respective records against common opponents.
PACKERS: Dec. 8 vs. Falcons; Dec. 14 at Bills; Dec. 21 at Tampa Bay; Dec. 28 vs. Detroit
Comment: They currently look as strong as any team in the league and knocked off the Patriots at home Sunday. The schedule makers were prescient this year: The Packers host their only division rival, Detroit, in the season finale.
EAGLES: Dec. 7 vs. Seahawks; Dec. 14 vs. Cowboys; Dec. 20 at Washington; Dec. 28 at Giants
Comment: The 49ers would love to see either the Eagles or Cowboys implode down the stretch. The Eagles may be the better of the two teams but may have a slightly tougher schedule. The 49ers beat both, giving them a tiebreaker edge if it comes to that.
FALCONS: Dec. 8 at Green Bay; Dec. 14 vs. Steelers; Dec. 21 at Saints; Dec. 28 vs. Panthers
Comment: As far as the 49ers’ playoff chances are concerned, this division is (almost certainly) moot. Either the Falcons or Saints will capture the NFC South. The other will miss the playoffs.
SEAHAWKS: Dec. 7 at Eagles; Dec. 14 vs. 49ers; Dec. 21 at Cardinals; Dec. 28 vs. Rams
Comment: This schedule is tougher than San Francisco’s. Still, the Seahawks currently have a one-game advantage on the 49ers and are two games up as far as intra-division games, which is the second tiebreaker should San Francisco pull an upset and win in Seattle Dec. 14.
LIONS: Dec. 7 vs. Buccaneers; Dec. 14 vs. Vikings; Dec. 21 at Bears; Dec. 28 at Packers
Comment: This is the easiest schedule of any of the playoff hunters. Only one team, Green Bay, has a winning record.
COWBOYS: Dec. 4 at Bears; Dec. 14 at Eagles; Dec. 21 vs. Colts; Dec. 28 at Washington
Comment: The 49ers beat Dallas in Week 1 and the first tiebreaker is head to head. Three of the Cowboys’ final games are on the road.
49ERS: Dec. 7 at Raiders; Dec. 14 at Seahawks; Dec. 20 vs. Chargers; Dec. 28 vs. Cardinals
Comment: The 49ers currently face three playoff-bound teams over the last four weeks. Obviously, sweeping all four games is their best scenario. The game against the Chargers is on Saturday, Dec. 20 and has been moved from 1:30 p.m. to 5:25 p.m. That gives them an extra day to prepare and rest up for what could be a win-and-get-in finale against the Cardinals. (There’s also a scenario in which the 49ers win the finale and then go to Arizona the next week).
SAINTS: Dec. 7 vs. Panthers; Dec. 15 at Bears; Dec. 21 vs. Falcons; Dec. 28 at Buccaneers
Comment: See: Falcons
Conclusion: Yes, the 49ers still have an outside shot at winning the division. (But so does Tampa Bay). Their best chance at the playoffs, however, seems to be leapfrogging the Cowboys and a Cardinals team that has dropped its last two games. That, of course, would mean that Seattle wins the division and the 49ers get a Wildcard spot.
Read Matt Barrows’ blogs and archives at www.sacbee.com/sf49ers.