Few teams have had more of a roller coaster ride than the San Francisco 49ers this season.
Their 1-2 start, followed by streaks of five wins, two losses and now three wins, has left their fans more puzzled than ever. What kind of team are they? Can they pull off big wins, like Sunday’s 19-17 triumph over the Seattle Seahawks? Or is their true identity what they showed by scoring nine points at home in a loss to the Panthers?
Luckily, the 49ers’ highest moment of the season is right now. They are fresh off their victory over Seattle, which marked their third consecutive win. To make matters even better, their next two opponents are the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Atlanta Falcons, whose combined record is 7-19. In short, the 49ers have an excellent opportunity to head into the playoffs with some serious momentum.
As it currently stands, the 49ers would face the Philadelphia Eagles in the Wild Card Round as the NFC’s sixth seed. That is a very winnable game by all means, as Colin Kaepernick would likely have a field day against the Eagles’ lackluster pass defense. Should the Niners capture the fifth seed, they would face an easier matchup, against the Detroit Lions. The Lions are one of the most inconsistent teams in the NFL, never compiling a winning or losing streak of more than two games.
The bigger question is whether the 49ers have what it takes to go up against the upper echelon of teams in the NFC. Should the 49ers advance to the divisional round, they would match up against either the Seahawks or the New Orleans Saints.
One would be hard pressed to find a tougher assignment in sports than winning an NFL playoff game in Seattle. The Seahawks, who take home-field advantage to a new level, have completely trounced the 49ers in the teams’ past two matchups at CenturyLink Field. The 29-3 manhandling this year, combined with last season’s 42-13 defeat, means the 49ers have been outscored 71-16 over their past two games in Seattle.
Seeing as that hardly inspires much confidence, the 49ers must hope to face the Saints in the divisional round of the playoffs. To do this, they must capture the fifth seed in the NFC. Per NFL rules, the tie in the wild-card race goes to the team with the better record in head-to-head play, in which case the Panthers have the advantage. This means it is imperative that the Niners win out for the remainder of the season.
Even if the 49ers do face the Saints and beat them, they would likely face the Seahawks in the NFC Conference Championship. (That is, unless, Carolina magically wins in Seattle.) For now, the 49ers have proven they do not have what it takes to win in the fortress that is CenturyLink Field. If they hope to make a repeat appearance in the Super Bowl, they must change that notion.