The 49ers didn’t make the playoffs in an injury-riddled 2020 season following up their NFC championship campaign of 2019. San Francisco is one game away from a return to the tournament toward Super Bowl 56.
Going into Week 18 this season, the 49ers (9-7) are two games above. .500, rallying to go 7-3 after a shaky 2-4 start. They have unfinished business, however, to punch a second playoff ticket in three years.
Here’s breaking down the 49ers’ lone path in trying to make it three playoff teams from the NFC West, joining the Rams and Cardinals:
49ers playoff picture for Week 18
The 49ers currently hold the No. 6 seed, ahead of the No. 7 Eagles, who have already clinched a wild-card berth. One of following two things needs to happen on Sunday for San Francisco to play further into 2022:
1. 49ers win in Week 18
The 49ers have a tough road matchup in Week 18 against the Rams (12-4), who will be motivated to win to edge the Cardinals for the NFC West title.
San Francisco is the natural underdog, but it needs to tap into its recent great history in the matchup. The 49ers beat the Rams 31-10 in Week 10. Kyle Shanahan’s team is now riding a five-game winning streak against Sean McVay’s club.
Should the Niners not beat the Rams with George Kittle, Deebo Samuel and their other explosive offensive players with rookie quarterback Trey Lance likely to start again, they will need to root for Shanahan’s former team, the Falcons.
2. Saints lose in Week 18
The Saints (8-7) are the one team who can displace the 49ers. New Orleans must play at Atlanta to close the season. The Saints lost at home in Week 10 to the Falcons, 27-25.
Should the 49ers lose to the Rams or tie, they need the Saints to either lose or tie the Falcons in their rematch.
Why does San Francisco need to stay one game ahead of New Orleans? The 49ers lose a two-way tie with the Saints and a three-way tie with the Eagles and Saints because they would have an inferior conference record vs. both teams. Unfortunately, San Francisco’s Week 4 home win over Philadelphia has no effect on its playoff position with New Orleans still in the mix.
Based on who’s favored in each game, the 49ers have their work cut for them to avoid another disappointing playoff-less season under Shanahan.