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49ers Playoff Picture: What History Tells Us About San Francisco as Every Seed

Joseph AkeleyAnalyst IDecember 6, 2012

49ers Playoff Picture: What History Tells Us About San Francisco as Every Seed

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    Entering Week 13, the San Francisco 49ers were legitimately in the race for NFC's No. 1 seed.

    But after losing to the St. Louis Rams 16-13 in overtime on Sunday, the 49ers are 2.5 games behind the Atlanta Falcons and only a half-game ahead of the Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers for the NFC's No. 2 seed.

    You can kiss any No. 1 seed aspirations goodbye. And if history is any indication, the 49ers would be much better off with the top seed, as they've won four of their five Super Bowls as the NFC front-runners.

    Yeah, I know. The history of the team's record in the playoffs doesn't have any bearing on what it will do this year (besides possibly 2011's playoff run). So, for those of you who don't take any stock in historical context, the following slides will simply be a trip down memory lane.

    For those who believe the past has clues for the future, this slideshow will show you why the 49ers desperately need to secure at least the No. 2 seeded spot in the NFC. I present you with San Francisco's playoff history as every seed, dating back to the Red and Gold's first Super Bowl appearance for the 1981-82 season.

    Note: The 49ers have never been the No. 6 seed in the NFC, which is the reason the slide was omitted.

No. 5 Seed

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    Results: Lost 1985 NFC Wild Card Round Game; Lost 2001 NFC Wild Card Round Game

    Playoff record as No. 5 seed: 0-2

     

    The Seattle Seahawks are only 1.5 games behind the 49ers in the NFC West Division. And considering the 49ers still have to play both the New England Patriots and Seattle on the road, the Seahawks certainly have a shot at passing San Francisco to win the division. 

    For the sake of argument, let's say the 49ers finish 10-5-1 and end up with the No. 5 seeded spot. They would likely play the New York Giants in the Wild Card Round.

    The same Giants that beat San Francisco 26-3 in Week 6.

    Suffice to say, this would not be the 49ers' favorite scenario.

    The history doesn't bode well for San Francisco as the No. 5 team, as they lost 17-3 to the Giants in 1985 and 25-15 to the Packers in 2001. 

    It's difficult to win on the road three consecutive times in the playoffs, but that would likely be San Francisco's burden if it ended up with this seed.

No. 4 Seed

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    Results: Lost 1996 NFC Divisional Round Game; Lost 1998 NFC Divisional Round Game; Lost 2002 NFC Divisional Round Game

    Playoff record as No. 4 seed: 3-3

     

    The last time the 49ers were a No. 4 seed, craziness ensued. 

    Down 38-14 to the Giants, Jeff Garcia led a furious rally as the 49ers scored 25 unanswered points to advance to the next round. 

    Any magic that the 49ers had that day was transferred over to the Giants' side when the two teams met last year in the 2011 NFC Championship Game.

    I mean, c'mon. Two special teams turnovers in a playoff game? That's just pure cruelty from the football gods.

    Or maybe it was some sort of payback for the crazy 49ers comeback nearly a decade prior.

    The 49ers also beat the Green Bay Packers in dramatic fashion in 1998. That was the Terrell Owens "Catch II" game.

    But just like in 1996, after beating the Philadelphia Eagles (and doing so again in 2002), the 49ers could advance no further.  

No. 3 Seed

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    Results: Lost 1986 NFC Divisional Round Game 

    Playoff record as No. 3 seed: 0-1

     

    The 49ers seem destined to get either the No. 2 seed or the No. 3 seed in the 2012-13 season. 

    And if you believe in fate (or something like it) and you're a 49ers fan, you are probably terrified about San Francisco potentially getting the No. 3 seed.

    As a No. 3 seed in 1986, San Francisco suffered its worst loss in playoff history, a 49-3 drubbing against the Giants.

    In that game, the Giants knocked out Joe Montana.

    Fast forward to today. If the 49ers secured the No. 3 seed, they'd have to win a game in the Wild Card Round before potentially going on the road to play the Packers (assuming Green Bay secures the No. 2 seed).

    Fortunately, the 49ers can control their own destiny enough to avoid such a difficult road. As long as they win their last four games of the season, they'll clinch at least the No. 2 seed in the NFC.

No. 2 Seed

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    Results: Lost 1983 NFC Championship Game; Won 1988 Super Bowl; Lost 1993 NFC Championship Game; Lost 1995 NFC Divisional Round Game; Lost 2011 NFC Championship Game

    Playoff record as No. 2 seed: 6-4

     

    Enough about the heartbreaking loss to the Giants last year. 

    As a No. 2 seed in the 1988 playoffs, the 49ers upset the top-seeded Bears in the NFC Championship Game to advance to Super Bowl XXIII against the Cincinnati Bengals. And that's when Joe Montana had one of his most defining drives.

    He found John Taylor in the end zone with 39 seconds left in the game to give the 49ers a 20-16 lead, which would end up being the final score.

    As mentioned earlier, the 49ers would be much better off securing the No. 2 seed in the NFC. 

    Not only would they get a first-round bye, they would also get home-field advantage in the Divisional Round.

    According to FootballOutsiders.com, the 49ers have a 31-percent chance of earning the No. 2 seed and a 28.1-percent chance of finishing with the No. 3 seed.

No. 1 Seed

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    Results: Won 1981 Super Bowl; Won 1984 Super Bowl; Lost 1987 Divisional Round Game; Won 1989 Super Bowl; Lost 1990 NFC Championship Game; Lost 1992 NFC Championship Game; Won 1994 Super Bowl; Lost 1997 NFC Championship Game

    Playoff record as No. 1 seed: 15-4

     

    This is, of course, the preferred spot. Four times the 49ers have won the NFC Championship Game at Candlestick Park. 

    And we all know the 49ers are undefeated in Super Bowls.

    Of these four Super Bowls, three were won by Montana, all in convincing fashion.

    Steve Young also got the proverbial monkey off his back in Super Bowl XXIX, the 49ers' last Super Bowl title.

    To secure the No. 1 seed this season, the 49ers would have to win out and the Falcons would have to lose three out of four games. 

    FootballOutsiders.com gives the 49ers a 4.2-percent chance of claiming the top spot.

    In other words, it's not going to happen.

    More than likely, the 49ers are going to have to settle for the No. 2 or No. 3 seed. That means they may have to play the Falcons in the Georgia Dome for the NFC title.

    No matter how you slice it, the road to the Super Bowl will be a difficult one for the 49ers this year.

    Still, as long as they continue to run the ball and play defense like they have this season, they should be a major factor in the 2012-13 playoffs.

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