While the San Francisco 49ers still need a lot of matchups to go their way if they want to make the playoffs, the remaining schedules of competing wild-card teams are much tougher than that of the division-leading Cardinals.
Before delving into playoff scenarios, lets get one thing straight: The 49ers need to win out. If they only manage to post an 8-8 record, their chances decrease immensely. But there is a scenario where even a .500 49ers team make the dance.
However, a win in Philadelphia this week and the chances the 49ers win out will sky rocket with the final two games at home against the Detroit Lions and on the road to visit the St. Louis Rams. Going 9-7 would give San Francisco a much better shot at the postseason.
Unfortunately for the 49ers, overtaking Arizona for the division requires the Cardinals to lose two of their final three games, and the NFC West leaders get to play the same two lousy teams as the 49ers in the Lions and the Rams.
Essentially, even if the 49ers win out, they need either a Rams or Lions win over Arizona, and then a Green Bay win over Arizona in the season finale.
Granted the necessities to win the division are much less complex, winning the final wild-card spot might be more likely.
For example, the current wild-card holders are the Green Bay Packers (9-4) and the Dallas Cowboys (8-5).
Green Bay is almost assuredly got a wild-card spot wrapped up and since they beat the 49ers, even if they were to lose out, they hold the tiebreaker over San Francisco.
Now that final spot held down by the 8-5 Cowboys has four teams in contention, one of which being the 49ers.
One of those four teams is going to win the sixth and final playoff seed this season.
Now why is it so important for the 49ers to win out? The final NFC wild-card position could still be earned by a team finishing 8-8. It's unlikely, but still a possibility.
The standings are still to the point where the 49ers could win the wildcard at 8-8, but they would need the Falcons to lose two out of three against the Jets, Bills and Bucs. Plus, they would need the Giants to lose two of their last three games against the Panthers, Redskins and Vikings. Not to mention, the Cowboys losing all three of their remaining games against the Saints, Redskins and Eagles.
For those of you paying attention, the 49ers have the tiebreaker—with the best record inside the NFC—over all these teams.
If the aforementioned scenario were to yield true, the following would occur:
49ers: 8-8, conference record 7-5
Cowboys: 8-8, conference record 6-6
Giants: 8-8, conference record 6-6
Before anyone gawks at this scenario, let me just remind you the possibilities involved.
The Cowboys have to play in New Orleans against the 13-0 Saints, in Washington against a division opponent in the Redskins (who have nothing to lose), and then meet the division-leading Eagles at home. There is a significant possibility the Cowboys lose all three of these games.
The Giants remaining games are also at Washington (divisional games can go either way), at home against the Panthers, who are a very dangerous team with nothing to lose, and then at the Minnesota Vikings. It's a very possible that the G-Men lose two of three down the stretch.
And finally the Atlanta Falcons have to play at the Jets, home against the Bills and at the Bucs. The New York J! E! T! S! JETS JETS JETS have won three games in a row and beating the Falcons is a likely outcome. However, the Falcons losing to either the Bills or Bucs seems like a long shot. But as the phrase goes "any given Sunday."
So, it is feasible that the 49ers lose to the Eagles and still win the wildcard.
However, beating the Eagles and finishing 9-7 gives the 49ers a much better chance at the matchups they need going their way.
Just like the first scenario, the 49ers have the tie-breaking conference record against teams they didn't play this season.
The 9-7 49ers need the following to happen:
Cowboys lose two of three against the Saints, Redskins and Eagles.
Giants lose one of three against Redskins, Panthers, Vikings.
Falcons lose one of three against Jets, Bills, Bucs.
Now the kicker in this scenario is that the Falcons have the head-to-head tie-breaker over the 49ers via their week five victory in San Francisco. This means that if both the 49ers and Falcons win out and finish 9-7, the Falcons would make the playoffs.
But if the Falcons lose just one of their three remaining, and the 49ers win all three of their games, the 49ers would have the better record.
If this scenario goes down, the following final standings would develop in the fight for the sixth seed:
49ers: 9-7, conference record 8-4
Cowboys: 9-7, conference record 7-5
Giants: 9-7, conference record 7-5
Of course, these scenarios only play out if the 49ers focus on winning their games and forget about anybody else. In fact, if any 49er player is analyzing these possibilities he should run 200 extra sprints at practice because only fans are allowed to speculate.
San Francisco just needs to worry about taking care of their business and nothing else. If they can do that and win their remaining three games, they have a decent shot at sneaking into the playoffs.
While it may be considered an outside shot, MUCH WEIRDER things have happened.
Remember the Chiefs made the playoffs a couple years back? They needed a lot more to go their way then the 49ers need this year.