At least the first two, that is.
These standings also entail that the 49ers would play the sixth-seeded Seahawks in the opening round of January 2013 football.
But only a provincial mind could think this will remain the status quo, right? This is the NFL, where the highly touted Eagles are all but finished in the NFC East and where the two-win Colts of 2011 are currently a No. 5 seed, no?
Well, the amount of unpredictability and surprise developments this season more than suggest that the playoff seeds are far from determined—but only in the top six.
The 49ers, in particular, face the more challenging portion of their schedule and could experience a bit of a fall. They could also defeat the NFC North-leading Bears in Week 11 and potentially leapfrog them into No. 2.
The pertinent topic, though, is where the 49ers will find themselves when all the dust settles.
They obviously want home field advantage throughout, but what will fate actually determine for the 49ers’ playoff seed this season?
Let’s check out their odds.
Nos. 5-6 Seeds: Wild Card
San Francisco would have to experience a rather precipitous drop in the standings to enter the postseason as one of the lower two seeds.
Jim Harbaugh’s boys would likely have to fall to a higher-seeded Bears team and then follow that up on a short turnaround week with a loss to the Saints in the Superdome.
Tough consecutive road matchups in New England and Seattle would also need to add two more losses to the 49ers’ record. The Seahawks would (obviously) need to finish ahead of them in the division and overcome their current 0-3 record against NFC West foes.
All told, the 49ers would have to suffer four or five defeats to finish at 10-6 or 9-7.
Those records, however, are much better suited for the ‘Hawks, who will hold the final position at season’s end, with the Packers or Bears finishing fifth (the Giants will not lose their division lead).
The 49ers are one of the strongest teams in the NFL and will not roll into the playoffs with a record worse than 11-5.
Odds: Zero Percent
No. 4 Seed: Lowest-Ranked Division Winner
This is a more plausible playoff seed for the 49ers.
The Falcons would need only to cruise to a 13-3 finish and remain No. 1. The Bears have favorable matchups against Minnesota (twice), the road-weary Seahawks at home and the free-falling Cardinals. And if they beat the 49ers, they’d own the tiebreaker and at least a 12-4 record.
Green Bay would likely need to go 6-1, including taking down Chicago for the second time—certainly no easy task—to earn the NFC North crown.
It would then come down to the Giants. They’d need to tap into their road warrior mentality and win two out of three at home against the Saints’ atrocious defense and a defunct Eagles franchise.
Matching the 49ers 11 or 12 victories would give the Giants the upper hand and No. 3 seed because of the tiebreaker (Week 6 win over San Fran).
Collecting two or three more losses with the likes of the Bears and the incredibly home-dominant Saints, Patriots and Seahawks on the schedule is a conceivable outcome for the 49ers.
Odds: 15 Percent
No. 3 Seed: Third-Ranked Division Winner
The 49ers currently enjoy this respectable standing entering Week 10.
I expect them to maintain it at the conclusion of Week 17 with a mark of 12-4.
They host St. Louis at home this Sunday following the bye and welcome a loaded Bears team on Monday night eight days later. Harbaugh will instill a balanced offensive attack for a defeat of the still-developing Rams. The 49ers will then win a close one against Chicago in the head coach’s preferred method: run-first, punch-you-in-the-mouth, grind-it-out fashion.
Brutal back-to-backs will produce San Francisco’s additional two losses on the season. Traveling to New Orleans on a short week following the Bears game, as well as facing the Patriots and Seahawks on the road will simply prove too difficult to emerge victorious in all three.
Recent unproven track records notwithstanding, Atlanta and Chicago have comfortable leads in the standings and winnable schedules. And the Giants prefer lesser win totals for their playoff runs—as recent proven history would suggest.
Ultimately, the next two weeks will be the deciding factors in the 49ers’ playoff seed (hint: Bears’ schedule).
Odds: 50 Percent
No. 2 Seed: First Round Bye
A first round bye was pivotal towards the 49ers playoff run last season.
They had the luxury of playing the Saints at home instead of in New Orleans, where many believed Drew Brees and Co. were invincible.
It required a remarkable campaign by the 49ers and monumental upset of the Saints by lowly St. Louis to afford the Red and Gold with the slight edge. It will similarly require a collapse by a heavy favorite to secure another No. 2 seed.
The Bears have won six in a row and show no signs of letting up. However, they face their most challenging two-game stretch all season starting on Sunday.
Lovie Smith’s club hosts 7-1 Houston and travels to San Francisco the following week. The Texans and 49ers are superior to all seven teams the Bears have beaten. Their .368 strength of victory is the lowest of all current playoff teams, other than Baltimore.
Yet, the Bears have a similar makeup to the Texans and 49ers: all three feature highly feared and effective defenses and rushing attacks. Smith undoubtedly likes his chances in both games.
At the end of the day, Chicago will lose to the more battle-tested 49ers. It boils down to whether or not the Bears can beat a marquee Texans squad and take advantage of their cakewalk of a late-season schedule.
If the Jay Cutler-led or Cutler-less Bears falter (heaven forbid an injury were to occur), then the 49ers have a shot at moving up with 12 wins and the tiebreaker.
Odds: 30 Percent
No. 1 Seed: Home Field Advantage
Let’s face it: it would take a veritable miracle for this scenario to materialize.
Atlanta is 8-0 with a high probability of finishing 14-2. San Francisco would either have to win out or go 7-1—hoping that the Falcons lose three, with the strength of schedule tiebreaker landing in its favor.
Epic collapses happen, but odds say don’t bet on it.
Odds: Five Percent
The 49ers can rest assured with a No. 2 or 3 seed. Odds are the Falcons will pull a playoff one-and-done anyways.
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