Let's get one thing out of the way early: If the 49ers don't win Sunday against the Seahawks, the season is over. Lose to Seattle and all this playoff chatter, all the self-confident "Just watch" refrains from Mike Singletary, all the fluff and bluster we've been hearing since 2008 - all of it will be done, finished, buried and laid to rest. Lose to Seattle and our season-long suspicion that the 49ers are the second-worst team in the NFL's first-worst division will be confirmed.
If the Seahawks win at Candlestick Park on Sunday, the worst that Seattle could finish is 7-9 and the best the 49ers could finish is 7-9. The Seahawks, however, would win the first tiebreaker, which is head-to-head record. Therefore, the most likely avenue to the postseason - winning the NFC West - would be impossible for the 49ers with a loss.
Ah, but with a win, those rapidly dimming playoff hopes get a few more watts of light. As president and CEO Jed York pointed out after the game yesterday, the 49ers must now concentrate on winning their three remaining division games. In fact, the 49ers even could lose their Week 15 game at San Diego and still have a puncher's shot of making the playoffs if they beat Seattle, St. Louis and Arizona.
That's because the division-leading Seahawks and Rams - they're both 6-6 - have several tough games looming on their schedule, including a face-off on the final weekend of the season. Both teams, of course, also play the 49ers. If all three teams finish with the same record, say 8-8 or 7-9, the 49ers would win the division race against the Rams based on head-to-head record and against the Seahawks based on the second tie-breaker, which is a superior division record. (Technically, the 3-11 Cardinals still could win the division, but for the sake of argument (and reality) let's count them out of it.)
So where will the Seahawks' and Rams' losses come? See for yourself:
Seahawks (6-6) remaining schedule:
Dec. 12 at San Francisco
Dec. 19 vs. Atlanta
Dec. 26 at Tampa Bay
Jan. 2 vs. St. Louis
Rams (6-6) remaining schedule
Dec. 12 at New Orleans
Dec. 19 vs. Kansas City
Dec. 26 vs. San Francisco
Jan. 2 at Seattle
49ers (4-8) remaining schedule
Dec. 12 vs. Seattle
Dec. 16 at San Diego
Dec. 26 at St. Louis
Jan. 2 vs. Arizona
During his post-game press conference, Singletary left the door open for Alex Smith to be the starting quarterback against Seattle. He said that has not decided who would start. "I thought he did decent," Singletary said when asked to assess Troy Smith's performance in Green Bay. "I thought he did ok."
In a Week 1 game in Seattle, Alex Smith was 26-45 for 225 yards in the 31-6 loss. He threw two interceptions, one of which was returned for a touchdown, and misfired on two, easy would-be touchdown passes early in the game.
-- Matt Barrows