The 49ers not only control their own destiny as far as securing a playoff spot. If they win their final two games, they will secure the coveted fifth seed in the NFC. In fact, there's even a remote chance they can get the top seed in the conference.
As it stands now, the 49ers have the sixth seed because the two other teams with 10-4 records - the Panthers and the Saints - beat San Francisco earlier this year. But Carolina and New Orleans will play each other next week. The winner likely will go on to win the NFC South and get the No. 2 seed. Should the 49ers beat the Falcons a week from today and Arizona in the finale, the Carolina-New Orleans loser probably would get the sixth seed. ("Likely" and "probably" are the key words when talking about these scenarios).
If everything plays out as expected, the fifth seed is the more coveted spot. If the 49ers are the fifth seed and they win their opening-round game, say in Detroit or Chicago, they would avoid having to go to play the likely No. 1 seed, Seattle, in the second round.
The absolute, best, pie-in-the-sky, ain't-gonna-happen scenario for the 49ers is that they win their final two games, the Seahawks drop their final two and the Saints and Carolina lose at least one more game. That would make the 49ers the NFC West champions, give them a first-round bye and secure them home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
A more plausible path that avoids Seattle? The 49ers get the fifth seed and the Panthers the sixth. If both won in the opening round, San Francisco would head to New Orleans in the second round while Carolina would go to Seattle. The Panthers lost to the Seahawks in Charlotte, N.C. in Week 1, but the game was close - 12-7. The Panthers and 49ers seem like the most likely teams to pull an upset over the Seahawks, who have the best chance of obtaining the No. 1 seed.
And if both the Panthers and 49ers won in the second round? That would mean the NFC Championship game would be at Candlestick Park. The old girl may have one more classic in her yet ...
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-- Matt Barrows