The 49ers blew a 10-0 lead and lost to the Titans by a final score of 20-17 on “Thursday Night Football” to open Week 16. While Tennessee needed that win badly and is headed toward another AFC South title at 10-5, San Francisco’s record fell to 8-7 as it tries to chase down an NFC wild-card berth.
Let’s break down the implications of the 49ers’ loss in the NFL playoff picture with two games left on their 2021 schedule.
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NFL playoff picture: 49ers’ NFC wild-card chances
The 49ers didn’t change positions as a result of their defeat. They still remain the No. 6 seed in the NFC playoffs. That status is unlikely to change much (if it all) with the results of Week 16’s weekend games.
San Francisco can, however, say goodbye to a shot at winning the NFC West given it was already two games down to Arizona (10-4) and Los Angeles (10-4) with three games left. Now, with two games remaining, Kyle Shanahan’s team can focus on getting into the playoffs with one of the two last wild-card spots behind the Rams.
The seventh-seeded Vikings (7-7), Eagles (7-7) and Saints (7-7) are the three NFC teams right behind the 49ers, trailing by only a half-game going into their matchups. But the good news for the 49ers is the Vikings are home underdogs against the Rams, and the Saints now have that same status against the Dolphins after being hit hard by COVID-19 positive tests and other injuries. The Eagles are the best bet to win at home against the Giants.
San Francisco put itself in good shape in advance of this developing situation by beating both Philadelphia (Week 2) and Minnesota (Week 12) in key matchups earlier in the season. The 49ers also would have the head-to-head tiebreaker should they be alone with the Saints in the standings at 8-7, thanks to a better conference record (6-5 vs. 5-5).
Although the 49ers’ playoff probability did go down some, it’s still very favorable because of those facts. San Francisco also gets a date with Houston with a great chance to win in Week 17.
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Of the Vikings, Eagles and Saints, the Eagles have the best chance of winning out. They will face the Giants and Washington Football Team before a Week 18 game against the Cowboys, and Dallas could be resting its starters at that point in the season. The Vikings also need to play the Packers in Week 17. The Saints finish with the Panthers and Falcons after the Dolphins, but they lost to both division foes earlier in the season.
The biggest thing that can help the 49ers is if the Cardinals or Rams can win the NFC West before Week 18. That would allow both teams to rest players before playing in the playoffs the next week. San Francisco would benefit from that because it is playing against Los Angeles, which it also beat earlier (Week 10), to end the season.
Of those four NFC teams with seven losses, two will be members of the seven-team playoff field. The 49ers’ resume is likely to be strong enough to be one of them, with the Vikings or Eagles getting the edge for the other.