Saturday’s game in Seattle will be crucial to the 49ers' chances for securing the No. 2 seed in the NFC playoffs. It appears to be an advantage of enormous proportions in that it would keep the 49ers out of New Orleans.
It doesn’t take much to propose that the Saints are the best team in the NFL right now, and quarterback Drew Brees will break Dan Marino’s mark for total passing yards in one season. The Saints have a few blemishes on their record—aside from losing to Tampa Bay, they lost (inexplicably) to the Rams in St. Louis—but are considered unbeatable in the Superdome.
And that’s what a No. 2 seed does: It gets you a first-round bye in the playoffs and then a home game. You get a week’s rest while your opponent continues the long physical slog that is the NFL season, and then that team has to travel.
All teams benefit from playing at home. But it has to be said that, in the playoffs, home-field advantage does not automatically secure a victory. At this time of year, a team’s ability to perform at a high level of efficiency is more important than home cooking.
In the 49ers’ history, the 1992 home-field loss to Dallas in the NFC Championship game was proof that a better team can win on the road. Four years earlier, the Niners went to Chicago and beat the Bears in the cold, 28-3. Both times, the better team won.
We saw it again last year, as Green Bay played three playoff games on the road and won each rather handily.
In San Francisco’s case, there’s no Aaron Rodgers, no Jermichael Finley and the rest of that offensive powerhouse. But the Niners do have their advantages, which makes them the NFC team with the greatest need for home-field advantage.