After starting 3-4, the San Francisco 49ers have gotten white-hot, winning their last nine games in a row, and they have become the serious Super Bowl contenders many felt they could become when the season started.
They clinched the best record in the NFC West a few weeks ago, and with the NFC South-leading Tampa Bay Buccaneers holding an 8-8 record, the worst the 49ers can do is to finish with the third seed in the conference.
But of course, they will want to finish as high as possible, not just in order to get a bye into the divisional round but to also ensure the best matchup possible if and when they get to the divisional round.
Here’s a look at what would have to happen for San Francisco to finish either third, second, or first in the NFC.
At 12-4, the 49ers have the same record as the NFC North-leading Minnesota Vikings but hold the tiebreaker by virtue of a better conference-winning percentage.
They will face the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday while Minnesota will visit the Chicago Bears, and while one would expect both teams to win, nothing is a given in the NFL.
If the Niners lose and the Vikings win, the Niners will end up with the third seed in the NFC.
If the 49ers win or the Vikings lose, San Francisco will finish second – it’s that simple.
San Francisco could have a difficult matchup in the wild-card round against the New York Giants if they fall to third place, but the second seed could mean a somewhat easier opponent, such as the Seattle Seahawks, Detroit Lions or Green Bay Packers.
The scenario Niners fans are hoping for would result in their team getting a bye into the divisional round, which would mean some rest and recuperation time, as well as more preparation and practice time.
For San Francisco to gain the top seed, it will have to win in Week 18 while the current top seed, the Philadelphia Eagles, loses to the New York Giants.
Jalen Hurts has missed Philly’s last two games with a shoulder injury, but he is reportedly expected to play on Sunday, although it remains to be seen how much mobility he will have.
— JAKIB Sports (@JAKIBSports) January 1, 2023