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.
Date: December 19, 2011 at 9:08 AM
Comment: Tonight's game will reveal what the Niners are capable of against a tough, blitzing defense and an elite (though not 100%) QB -- a playoff-caliber team. If they cannot adjust and execute with adequate time to prepare, it does not bode well for the playoffs. I'm cautiously optimistic, but fear that the OL and Alex are not yet there, and may never be.
Hopefully, the staff can upgrade the offense in the offseason and also have a true competition at QB and not just hand the job to Smith. They need OLs that can pass block and pick up blitzes. Also, they need to add a better catching TE to groom and replace VD. Someone with size, like "Gronk" in New England, would make an awesome weapon in Harbaugh's offense. It would help if the receivers could also track the flight of passes over their heads, and make over-the-shoulder catches, like receivers on other teams. a true deep threat must be able to actually CATCH the BALL! Maybe work on zone blitzes and get some pressure up the middle, again, like some other teams seem able to do...
Date: December 19, 2011 at 7:57 AM
Comment: I actually wanted Alex to lose and perform badly so at least we'll have a least expectations and not re-sign after this season. C'mon let's end this QB experimentation, after 7 yrs. Either draft a QB next year's draft or have Colin start next season. But definitely no Superbowl this year under this years offense. Our Defense and Special teams are already there but our offense is to much of a baggage to get to the next level. My prediction early exit in the playoff. Just my 2 cents.
Date: December 17, 2011 at 7:53 AM
Comment: I beg to differ! Last year this was a mediocre team with no future, a John York type team! This year without a training camp, with only one real addition in the draft ( not even a starter) we way exceeded expectations. We have a qb who has to have everything right and in alignment or he acts like a lost HS player. REgardless of what happens in the playoff, next year we are a force to be reckoned with. ( add a real NFL WR threat and a CB we are a top team, add a qb and we are in elite status)
Date: December 16, 2011 at 6:28 PM
Comment: A win Monday would be great. It would give them a better chance to advance into the next round of the Playoffs. But to be realistic, they will not get to the Superbowl. It's just not possible in today's NFL ,to not have an above average QB and win a Championship. You cannot depend on your defense and special teams to bail you out every week. You have to be able to consistently score points. Which they cannot do. Their just not good enough. Plain and simple.
Date: December 16, 2011 at 1:57 PM
Comment: I actually think if the Niners get a bye, a Superbowl berth is quite possible. A divisional playoff game at home won't be hard to win (against ANYBODY in the NFC). And once you make it to the NFC Championship Game, anything is possible.
Date: December 16, 2011 at 9:15 AM
Comment: The 49ers are back as a competitive team. It will take some time to assemble the talent to make the SB. I love the way Smith has played this season, however, until we have a QB who can 'throw the ball open' to our receivers, we will not go far into the playoffs. I see the elite teams all have QBs who can do this on a regular basis.
By: Dallas Niner Fan
Date: December 16, 2011 at 8:56 AM
Comment: Huge game. Biggest Niner game in 8 years. This reminds me of the times when the Niners dominated the league. Monday nite football a huge game in the Bay area. It doesn't get better than this. Are you ready for some football!!!!!!!!!! Go Niners!!!!!!!!!!!
PS prediction: Niners 17 Steelers 10
Date: December 16, 2011 at 7:31 AM
Comment: The 49ers won the NFC West, exceeding most fans expectations. That said, I believe they have peaked and will go no further. The talent level just isnt there. Coach Harbaugh deserves "coach of the year" for taking this team so far. If the 49ers can address their weaknessess during the off-season, perhaps a SB next year.
Date: December 16, 2011 at 6:08 AM
Comment: Seriously the Superbowl is not going to happen. We should all just be happy where we sit and hope to make a run next year at the Lombardi Trophy. Did any one reading this really expect to see us sitting where we currently are at the beginning of the season ? Sure play to win, but I'm not going to go into a depression when the inevitable happens in the playoffs regardless of how deep we go.