San Francisco 49ers: Breaking Down Road to the Playoffs

Joseph AkeleyAnalyst INovember 7, 2012

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - OCTOBER 18:  Head coach Jim Harbaugh of the San Francisco 49ers awaits a replay ruling against the Seattle Seahawks late in the fourth quarter on October 18, 2012 at Candlestick Park in San Francisco, California.  The 49ers won 13-6.  (Photo by Brian Bahr/Getty Images)
Brian Bahr/Getty Images

At 6-2 and 1.5 games ahead in the NFC West, the San Francisco 49ers are in great position to march into the NFL playoffs.

But one would be foolish to believe that a playoff spot is guaranteed.

In a perfect world, the 49ers will have the division wrapped up prior to their Week 16 tilt in Seattle and earn one of the top two spots in the NFC.

Let's take a look at San Francisco's road to the postseason.


Remaining schedule

San Francisco should take care of business this weekend against the St. Louis Rams, but the games that follow could represent multiple landmines.

The Chicago Bears are one of the most comparable teams to the 49ers. Both teams have an elite defense and a prolific running game, but they often struggle to protect their quarterbacks. 

Chicago leads the NFL in turnovers forced with 28, and it will be absolutely crucial for Alex Smith to play turnover-free football. 

Next up are the New Orleans Saints in the Superdome. Drew Brees passed for 462 yards and four touchdowns in New Orleans' playoff loss to San Francisco in January. The Saints may be 3-5, but don't expect San Francisco to waltz into the Big Easy and win comfortably.

Following what should be another win in St. Louis, San Francisco will face the Miami Dolphins, a team that's without any major weaknesses. The Dolphins stop the run, rush the passer and play balanced offense now that Ryan Tannehill has found confidence as an NFL signal-caller. 

After the clash against the Dolphins, arguably the two toughest road games of the season await San Francisco.

First, the 49ers travel to New England, the team with the best point differential in the AFC. The Patriots average the most yards and most points per game. To put it simply, they are prolific and balanced, the perfect way to crack a good defense.

The Niners than travel to Seattle to take on the Seahawks, and you can expect that game to be a slugfest similar to the first time these teams played each other this year.

San Francisco concludes with a home game against the Cardinals, who are currently in disarray. 


What it will take for 49ers to clinch a berth

The Seahawks have already lost three games in the division, which means if the 49ers beat the Rams twice, they will automatically hold the division tiebreaker over the 'Hawks before they play in Week 16.

Even if Seattle won out (beating San Francisco once in the process), the 49ers could still afford to lose one other game and win the division at 12-4. 

Chances are the Seahawks will be 9-5 or 8-6 when they face the 49ers in Week 16. San Francisco's target win total should be at least 11. That number would almost assuredly win the division.

But the 49ers would probably be safe with 10, earning either the division title or a wild-card berth.



I understand that you can never take an opponent for granted in the NFL, but I think it's safe to say that if the 49ers play decent football against the Rams (twice) and Dolphins, they should prevail in those games. 

The biggest game left on the schedule in terms of playoff positioning is against the Bears. I think the 49ers will treat this game like their regular-season Super Bowl (remember last year's game against the Steelers?) and knock off Chicago.

From there, San Francisco has three tough road games (New Orleans on a short week, New England and Seattle). I suspect San Francisco will lose two of them, and for the sake of argument, let's just say the losses will come against the Patriots and Seahawks.

I know, I know, the 49ers already handled the 'Hawks. However, Seattle has an incredible home-field advantage (4-0 at home this year), and Russell Wilson has thrown nine touchdowns and zero interceptions at CenturyLink Field so far this the season.

The 49ers should close the season with a win against the Cardinals and finish 12-4, clinching the No. 2 seed in the NFC (behind the Falcons) because of the tiebreaker they hold over of the NFC North Division contenders (Bears and Packers).

What do you think? Will the 49ers win the division, and what playoff seed will they get if they do? Let us know in the comments below.