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Playoffs: Still a "Mathematical" Possibility

Dec 8, 2003 at 12:00 AM


With losses this week by Seattle and New Orleans, many are wondering what the 49ers chances really are of making the playoffs. First, the good news: the 49ers can still make the playoffs. Stranger things have happened. Just look at the BCS. Now, the bad news: the 49ers will need a lot of help, and chances are, the 49ers will miss the playoffs be cause of the inordinate amount of help they will need from other teams.

First things first, the 49ers will not repeat as NFC West champions. The best record the 49ers can amass is 9-7. The Rams just won their tenth game. This means that because of overall records, the 49ers have no chance of repeating as NFC WEST champions.

That was the easy part, now comes the hard part. Can the 49ers make the playoffs as a Wild Card Team? In order for that to happen, the following things need to transpire over the last three weeks of the season. (Disclaimer: What follows is not recommended for the easily confused. Any headaches, dizziness or nausea that comes as a result of the following scenarios are strictly the reader’s responsibility.)
  1. The 49ers must win all of their remaining games against Cincinnati, Philadelphia, and Seattle. At 9-7, the playoffs are still a possibility, but at 8-8 the chances plunge lower than J-Lo’s necklines. If the 49ers lose a game, then they can start thinking about the scores of crucial personnel decisions the front office will have to make this off-season.

  2. The Seahawks must lose all of their remaining games. If they lose two of three, they would finish with the same record as the 49ers, 9-7. However, the Seahawk’s last three games are all against division rivals. If they win just one of their next three then their division record would stand at 4-2. According to NFL tiebreaking rules, to settle a tie for a Wild Card spot for teams within a division, the first tiebreaker is head-to-head competition. If the 49ers win out, they would have split the series with the Seahawks.

    The second tiebreaker is division record. The Seahawks would have a division record of 4-2 while the 49ers would have a division record of 3-3. That meltdown in Arizona sure hurts a lot more now, doesn’t it?

  3. Green Bay has to lose all of their remaining games. They are at 7-6 right now, and if they win two of their next three games, they would be in a tie with San Francisco for a Wild Card spot at 9-7. However, since Green Bay beat the 49ers, they hold the first tiebreaker and would be in the playoffs. The only way for the 49ers to get into the playoffs would be if the Packers went 8-8.
Spoilers?

New Orleans, Tampa Bay and Dallas are all teams that are currently in the Wild Card race. New Orleans and Tampa bay, however, are non-factors. If either of them loses, their record will be 8-8 or worse; not enough if the 49ers end up 9-7. If the Saints run the table and the Bucs don’t, the 49ers win the win percentage against common opponents tiebreaker. If the Bucs run the table, then the 49ers win the head-to-head tiebreaker. If the Saints and the Bucs both run the table, then they will have 7-5-conference records. In order to determine who gets the wild card spot, a division tiebreaker would have to be applied between the Bucs and the Saints. Based on Win Percentage against common opponents, the Bucs would be in a tie with the 49ers for a wild card spot. Since the 49ers beat Tampa Bay, the 49ers would be in the playoffs.

If Dallas wins two of the next three, then they finish out the season 10-6 and get the first Wild Card spot. If they only win one of their next three, then they finish the season 9-7, in a tie with the 49ers.In this case, both Dallas and the 49ers would have a 7-5 conference record. The Wild Card Spot would be decided by winning percentage against common opponents. The 49ers would have an 80% winning percentage against Arizona, Philly (assuming a win out), Detroit and Tampa Bay. Dallas would only have a 60% winning percentage against these teams. However, if Dallas wins the NFC East then Philadelphia would be the first seeded Wild Card team.

Given this entire technical tiebreaker diatribe, this is a grid of what the playoff picture would look like if the 49ers made it at the end of the season.

TeamWinLossTieDiv.Conf.
z-Minnesota-----
z-Carolina-----
z-Philadelphia-----
z-St. Louis-----
y-Dallas*10604-28-4
y-San Francisco   9703-37-5
Green Bay8804-27-5
Seattle8803-36-6
Tampa Bay**8803-37-5
New Orleans**8803-37-5

z-Division Winner
y-Wild Card Team
*Dallas could finish 9-7 and earn a Wild Card berth seeded below the 49ers. They could also finish 11-5 and challenge Philadelphia for the NFC East Division title.
**The Saints and Bucs could finish 9-7, but they would not make the playoffs because of tiebreakers

This is also assuming that teams like Minnesota and Carolina don’t have Chernobyl style meltdowns. It’s also assuming that the 49ers run the table and win out. The 49ers next two games are at Cincinnati and at Philadelphia. Given this team’s road woes, wins seem unlikely. However, they are not impossible. Maybe the team will find itself in the last three games, especially after a stellar performance by Jeff Garcia. Maybe Seattle and Green Bay will melt down. Maybe I’ll be drafted by the 49ers in the first round and single handedly right that Cardinal Red ship. Sure it’s possible, but highly unlikely. One thing is likely: The 49ers will miss the playoffs for only the third time in the last decade.
The opinions within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.


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