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Examining every 49ers playoff scenario

Brian Renick
Jan 4, 2022 at 9:00 AM


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The 49ers have a simple mission this coming Sunday against the Los Angeles Rams—win, and they're in the playoffs.

They can still back into the playoffs, even if they lose to the Rams, as long as the Saints lose to the Atlanta Falcons as well, but that's not the scenario the team is likely hoping for.

There are five games that have playoff implications in the NFC:

  • 49ers at L.A. Rams
  • Cowboys at Eagles
  • Panthers at Buccaneers
  • Seahawks at Cardinals
  • Saints at Falcons

*Green Bay locked up the No. 1 seed by virtue of their victory on Sunday Night Football against Minnesota.
*If the Rams lose and the Cardinals win, the Cardinals will be NFC West champions. If the Cardinals lose, the Rams will be NFC West champions, regardless of the outcome of their game against the 49ers.

Below are the many different scenarios that could occur in Week 18 and the implications they would have for the 49ers. I used ESPN's NFL Playoff Machine.

IF 49ers, Buccaneers, and Cardinals WIN


Final Standings
  1. Green Bay
  2. Tampa Bay
  3. Arizona
  4. Dallas
  5. L.A. Rams
  6. San Francisco
  7. Philadelphia

The 49ers would travel to Arizona to face the Cardinals for the 3rd time this season.

IF 49ers, Cowboys, and Buccaneers WIN, Cardinals LOSE


Final Standings
  1. Green Bay
  2. Tampa Bay
  3. Dallas
  4. L.A. Rams
  5. Arizona
  6. San Francisco
  7. Philadelphia

The 49ers would travel to Dallas to take on the Cowboys, a storied rivalry that would likely draw a primetime spot.

IF 49ers and Cardinals WIN, Buccaneers LOSE


Final Standings
  1. Green Bay
  2. Arizona
  3. Tampa Bay
  4. Dallas
  5. L.A. Rams
  6. San Francisco
  7. Philadelphia

The 49ers would travel to Tampa Bay to take on the defending Super Bowl champions. A Jimmy Garoppolo vs. Tom Brady matchup would surely get national attention.

*If the 49ers win, and the Buccaneers, Cowboys and Cardinals all lose, L.A. would win the NFC West and would flip positions with the Cardinals, leaving the 49ers playoff matchup the same.

IF 49ers and Cowboys WIN, Buccaneers and Cardinals LOSE


Final Standings
  1. Green Bay
  2. Dallas
  3. L.A. Rams
  4. Tampa Bay
  5. Arizona
  6. San Francisco
  7. Philadelphia

The 49ers would travel to face the Rams in back-to-back weeks, and attempt to beat them for the third time this season. That seems like a tall task.

IF 49ers and Saints LOSE, Cowboys WIN


Final Standings
  1. Green Bay
  2. L.A. Rams
  3. Tampa Bay
  4. Dallas
  5. Arizona
  6. San Francisco
  7. Philadelphia

IF 49ers, Saints, and Cowboys LOSE


Final Standings
  1. Green Bay
  2. L.A. Rams
  3. Tampa Bay
  4. Dallas
  5. Arizona
  6. Philadelphia
  7. San Francisco

This is the only scenario in which San Francisco would be the 7th seed in the NFC. They would travel to Los Angeles for a rubber match against the Rams.

I ran a Twitter poll last week asking fans who they would rather see in a first-round playoff matchup, and a third go-round with the Rams was the winner after 709 votes.


I'm not sure I agree with the fans there. It would be incredibly difficult to beat a team three times in the same season, and the only other scenario that has them playing the Rams involves the 49ers, Saints, and Eagles all losing on Sunday. Backing into the playoffs is not my idea of momentum.

The only true outcome that matters on Sunday is a victory over the Los Angeles Rams in order to punch the 49ers' ticket to the playoffs.

The rest is up to the Football Gods.
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