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Jon Gruden, Mike Tirico and Ron Jaworski are Bay Area bound preparing for the latest chapter of Monday Night Football to unfold, heavyweight-tilt between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the San Francisco 49ers. The game is a vast improvement from last week's line-up featuring the bottom-feeding Rams and the Seattle Seahawks. Both 10-win teams, the 49ers and Steelers promise to put on an entertaining showing in front of the national audience. The entertainment level promises to be high, but the implications of the game and how it plays out may be the deciding factor in how the 49ers 2011 season unfolds.
The 49ers are out of contention for the #1 seed in the NFC playoff picture, as the Green Bay Packers continue to roll over any team that crosses their path. Presently San Francisco is the #2 seed, and possess a first round bye, though the New Orleans Saints are breathing down the necks of Jim Harbaugh's squad. With an identical 10-3 record the Saints are on a tear, winning their past 5 games. Even more troublesome to the 49ers is that it looks like there is quite a legitimate chance that New Orleans wins out and finishes 13-3. Playing the Vikings at home this upcoming week, and finishing off the remaining games with the significant advantage of playing in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome against the Falcons and Panthers, a 13-3 New Orleans record looks evermore possible.
Facing a more daunting task, the 49ers play the 10-3 Steelers, the lonely Rams and the Seattle Seahawks at CenturyLink Field (formerly Qwest Field) where a win is by no means a given. The 49ers and their lack of an offense in the past few weeks coupled with the volatile Seattle environment adds up to a tough game. The Seahawks have looked revitalized as of late, after knocking off the Eagles and Rams in consecutive weeks. The 49ers will have to be on top of their game to notch a win. San Francisco is staring down the barrel of a tough 3 game skid to conclude the 2011 regular season.
With it looking continuously more likely that New Orleans won't misstep and lose another game this season, the significance of this week's Monday night battle in the Bay Area cannot be over emphasized. Monday night's affair could be the deciding factor as to whether the 49ers are playing onWild Card weekend or are on a bye week. The latter of the two aforementioned scenarios is much more enviable, and could be the key in determining how far this 2011 49ers squad goes in the playoffs.
If the 49ers lose home field advantage and their 1st round bye, the outlook is rather bleak. Playing in a Wild Card weekend match up would be quite detrimental to making San Francisco's Super Bowl dreams come true. Pending the 49ers win the Wild Card tilt, they would be on the next plane out of the Bay Area to the Bayou for a divisional game against the Saints. To say a playoff game in the Superdome against the Saints would be a tough task would be a severe understatement. New Orleans is 6-0 at home, and 4-3 on the road. Keeping possession of the #2 seed in the NFC and having home field advantage would place the 49ers in a much more favorable position of facing the Saints (if they do win their Wild Card match up) outside of the Bayou, and outdoors, where they have undoubtedly struggled.
With the recent redzone struggles the 49ers have experienced, costing the team valuable points (and arguably the win in Arizona), home field advantage and a first round bye would be unbelievably beneficial to Jim Harbaugh and the 49ers. A bye week would allow Coach Harbaugh to spend copious amounts of time preparing for potential opponents and focusing on strengthening the team's weak points. The offensive unit would have time to get back into synchronization, and back on track. Banged up players would also be grateful for the extra week off as the wear and tear of a 16 game schedule can catch up with a player, especially if they are not used to playing more than the allotted 16 regular season games.
The 49ers are only mere days away from their biggest game of the year, one which carries the potential to either put the 49ers at a severe disadvantage or in the position which all 49ers fans hope: on the couch on January 7-8, along with the rest of America, watching Wild Card games unfold.