In the NFL's National Football Conference, two teams have begun to separate themselves from the pack. One, the 9-0 Green Bay Packers, was expected to be great. The other, the 8-1 San Francisco 49ers, was most certainly not.
The 49ers' resurgence under Jim Harbaugh will be even more astonishing if they can wrangle away the No. 1 seed from the Packers.
Here are five games that will make or break the 49ers' chance of being the NFC's No. 1 seed.
The much anticipated Harbaugh Bowl will feature two teams that rely on stellar defenses. However, the Baltimore Ravens' elite status was called into question after an embarrassing loss to NFC West lightweight Seattle Seahawks.
A Turkey Day triumph over the Ravens would move the 49ers to 10-1, assuming they handle the Arizona Cardinals in Week 11.
A win would also help the Niners' take control of NFC, should an earlier Thanksgiving game go their way...
This is the most meaningful Lions Thanksgiving game in ages. The Lions aren't who we thought they were a few weeks back, but they're one of the only teams capable of upsetting the Green Bay Packers.
The first tiebreaker for teams that do not play head to head is division record. Therefore, a Packers' loss to NFC North foe Detroit would give the 49ers' the tiebreaker edge over Green Bay.
Week 13's matchup is another potential pitfall for the Green Bay Packers. The New York Giants will be fighting hard to take command of the NFC East on their home turf.
A Christmas game against the surging Chicago Bears will be no picnic, but this is likely the Packers' most difficult game after Thanksgiving.
A Packers' loss would give the Niners a prime opportunity take to make up ground or—if they continue winning—take the lead in the race for the No. 1 seed.
Week 15's clash against the balanced attack of the Pittsburgh Steelers may be the 49ers' toughest regular season test. Luckily, the Niners will enjoy a raucous home crowd for this Monday night contest.
A loss could spell the end of the 49ers' No. 1 seed hopes, but a win could put them in the driver's seat should the Packers not still be unbeaten.
This slide takes the viewpoint that the 49ers have taken the lead in the race to the No. 1 seed by the season's final game.
In that scenario, the last thing the 49ers would have to do is dispatch longtime nemesis St. Louis on the road. The Rams have improved in the last two weeks, suggesting they might not be pushovers.
Still, if the 49ers have their own fate in their hands, they should be determined enough to win this game.