49ers' Rooting Guide for NFL Playoff Implications of Week 9
The San Francisco 49ers come into Week 9 in a cluster of teams with three wins in the NFC standings.
Kyle Shanahan's team is in ninth place in the overall NFC standings and it needs to start making a run to catch up with the New Orleans Saints in sixth place.
The Niners can gain a massive amount of confidence on Sunday if they beat the Arizona Cardinals, a task that might be easier with Kyler Murray dealing with an ankle injury.
San Francisco does not have the easiest upcoming schedule. Nothing is really easy in the NFC West. But it has three of its next four contests at Levi's Stadium.
If the 49ers take advantage of their home cooking and get some help elsewhere, they could make a surge up the NFC standings in November.
Falcons over Saints
San Francisco needs New Orleans to lose a game or two to open up the competition for the final two wild-card spots.
If the Saints keep winning, the 49ers and a handful of other squads will be stuck fighting for one position over the final few weeks of the regular season.
The Saints could be a bit vulnerable going into their home matchup with the Atlanta Falcons. Trevor Siemian is starting for the injured Jameis Winston and the Saints could suffer a bit of a letdown after an emotional win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
San Francisco also needs Atlanta to lose games over the next few weeks, but the Falcons are the weaker team of the two playing in New Orleans on Sunday.
Additionally, the Niners host the Falcons in Week 15, so they can take care of any tiebreaker possibilities then.
Right now, the concern should be the growing gap between the Saints and everyone else. A Falcons win would do wonders not just for the Niners, but for the five other three-win teams.
Patriots over Panthers
If the wild-card race comes down to seven or eight teams for one spot, the 49ers have to hope the teams in front of them are level with them in the standings.
Panthers quarterback Sam Darnold is listed as questionable and Christian McCaffrey has not yet been activated off the injured reserve, per the team's official website.
The Panthers have until Saturday to activate McCaffrey. He will provide a boost if he plays, but he has also been out for six weeks, so Carolina may ease him back into the offense.
New England has a good chance to win because Darnold will not be at 100 percent if he plays. If Darnold is out, P.J. Walker will get the call and Carolina could use a heavy dose of McCaffrey and Chuba Hubbard.
If Carolina loses, it would allow the 49ers and the other three-win teams to move level in the win column with the NFC South side going into Week 10.
Ravens over Vikings
If you go through the list of three-win teams, only a few seem threatening to the 49ers on paper.
Although the Minnesota Vikings looked awful in Week 8, they still have an abundance of offensive talent that will win them a handful of games.
San Francisco does not want to be locked in a wild-card battle with a team that could put up 30-40 points in any given week.
Minnesota faces a tough road trip to Baltimore in Week 9. Even if the Vikings offense is firing on all cylinders, it may not win if it does not contain Lamar Jackson.
The Vikings are 1-2 on the road and Sunday starts a run of four out of the next five contests away from U.S. Bank Stadium.
One of those road games takes place in Santa Clara, and the Week 12 matchup could serve as a massive blow to Minnesota's playoff hopes.
There is a scenario in which the 49ers own the head-to-head tiebreakers over Atlanta and Minnesota and earn a split with Seattle.
If that happens, the Niners will be in great shape going into the final three weeks, but for now, they need to focus on beating the Cardinals and getting some help elsewhere in Week 9.