With just three games left in the regular season, the San Francisco 49ers (9-3-1) are one win away from clinching a playoff berth.
Although nothing can be assumed in the NFL, it seems like a good time to start forecasting how playoff matchups might go down in the NFC.
Would the 49ers have an advantage against all the potential playoff contenders? Or is there a team that San Francisco simply doesn't match up well against?
Without further ado, let's break down the 49ers' potential playoff games.
|Seed||Team||Current Record||Projected Record|
|No. 1||Atlanta Falcons||11-2||13-3|
|No. 2||San Francisco 49ers||9-3-1||11-4-1|
|No. 3||New York Giants||8-5||11-5|
|No. 4||Green Bay Packers||9-4||11-5|
|No. 5||Seattle Seahawks||8-5||10-6|
|No. 6||Chicago Bears||8-5||10-6|
Despite losing to the Panthers, the Falcons are still poised to clinch the No. 1 seed in the NFC. Even if they lose to the Giants on Sunday, they'll still only need to beat the Lions and Buccaneers to clinch home-field advantage in the NFC playoffs.
The 49ers have two brutal road tilts coming up against the New England Patriots and Seattle Seahawks. I have a feeling San Francisco will find a way to win one the two games. Even in a difficult environment, it's hard to bet against a team that allows the least points per game in the NFL and runs the ball efficiently.
The Giants have hit their stride. Need I say more? Their schedule may be difficult, but the Giants have what it takes to run the table and secure the No. 3 seed.
Something's not right with the Packers. Aaron Rodgers hasn't thrown for more than 300 yards in six games, and he's only tossed four touchdown passes in his last four games. This team is bound to trip up one more time this season.
The Seahawks could definitely win out. You don't beat a team 58-0 by accident. Seattle still has to go to Buffalo and then finishes off the season with home games against the 49ers and Rams. One more loss seems realistic.
The Bears have been in a tailspin, but they should be able to climb out of it when they play the Cardinals and the Lions in the final two weeks of the season.
Atlanta is averaging just 3.7 yards per carry this year, which is one of the worst marks in the NFL.
This plays right into the hands of the 49ers defense, which can unleash its talented pass rush against Matt Ryan and Co.
Still, Atlanta's aerial attack isn't easily contained.
Roddy White and Julio Jones may be the best wide-receiver duo in the NFL. As good as San Francisco's secondary has been this season, it would almost certainly allow a touchdown or two to Atlanta's group of receivers.
On the other side of the ball, the 49ers would likely have some success running the ball against a defense that's allowing 127 rushing yards per game.
These two teams haven't played each other since 2010 (before Jim Harbaugh became head coach), so it's hard to predict which team would come out on top.
The one thing we do know is that the Falcons have really struggled in the playoffs in recent years. The 49ers have a defense capable of making Atlanta relive those frustrations.
The last two times these teams have squared off, the 49ers have scored 20 points combined.
The biggest reason for San Francisco's offensive ineptitude has been the Giants' pass rush.
San Francisco quarterbacks have been sacked nine times in the last two meetings.
Colin Kaepernick may be better at escaping oncoming rushers than Alex Smith, but he's not immune to pressure. If the offensive line can't contain Jason Pierre-Paul and Co., the starting quarterback for the 49ers won't have a chance.
San Francisco's defense has held Eli Manning under seven yards per attempt in each of the last two meetings. But in the Week 6 matchup, Ahmad Bradshaw rumbled for 116 yards and a touchdown.
And Manning has done a good job of taking care of the ball, committing no turnovers while tossing three touchdown passes in the last two tussles combined.
Overall, this is the worst matchup for the 49ers.
The Packers don't run the ball all that well. They're hovering around the league average at stopping the run and the pass.
So how are they 9-4?
It's really as simple as that. Rodgers repeatedly puts the Pack on his back, dispelling the notion that you can't win with a one-dimensional offense.
The problem for the Packers is that the 49ers have proven several times over the last two years that they can beat one-dimensional teams.
When these teams met in Week 1, San Francisco outrushed Green Bay 186-45. Rodgers ended up with 303 passing yards, but he had 44 attempts and was sacked three times.
San Francisco is the more complete team, and it would likely win a rematch.
When these teams first met in San Francisco, the 49ers defense completely shut down Russell and Wilson and the Seattle passing game.
The 49ers passing game wasn't much better, but it did enough to tip the scale in San Francisco's favor.
But that was Russell Wilson then. He's shown vast improvement since that start. You'd have to believe he'd find more success than he did in that first game, with all due respect to San Francisco's superb pass defense.
It seems like the Seahawks are the only team that's really figured out how to consistently run the ball against the 49ers. Marshawn Lynch has totaled over 100 yards rushing the last two times he's faced San Francisco.
Played on a neutral field, I'd give a slight edge to the 49ers. San Francisco runs the ball a little better and has a little more playoff experience recently.
The team with home-field advantage would likely be the favorite in this potential playoff matchup.
Was it the element of surprise, or were the Bears overmatched by Colin Kaepernick and the 49ers in Week 11?
Probably a little bit of both.
The Bears were certainly at a disadvantage having to face Kaepernick in his first start. The 49ers' creative game plan kept the Bears defense one step behind for the entire game.
On the other side of the ball, Jay Cutler missed the game because of a concussion. It's unlikely that he would've been able to overcome San Francisco's defensive onslaught, though. The 49ers accumulated six sacks (Aldon Smith had 5.5 of them) and forced two turnovers.
Round 2 between these two squads might be a closer battle, but San Francisco's pass rush would ultimately be the difference in a rematch.