No. 1: Mounting playoff pressure
For much of their 9-1 start, especially before they lost to Seattle last week, the talk swirling around the 49ers has mostly focused on one question: is this team a real contender?
So far, they’ve done enough to hold the division lead in the NFC West, as well as the top overall seed in the NFC playoff picture. And the good news is, given their upcoming opponents, their ability to maintain those positions falls squarely on their shoulders.
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This is the definition of being in the driver’s seat. Green Bay and New Orleans are the second and third seeds in the NFC going into this week, which means beating those teams sets the 49ers up to hold their top spot in the conference. Not to mention the fact that they finish the year at Seattle, which could decide both the division and final conference seeding.
As for the Ravens, they are one of the top teams in the AFC, and beating them would certainly solidify the 49ers as the team to beat heading into the playoffs.
The question then becomes this: Can the 49ers, a young team with relatively little experience in being recognized among the NFL’s elite, maintain their composure under the mounting playoff pressure?
These next three opponents will be tough, of this there’s no doubt. But if the 49ers beat themselves by succumbing to the pressure, it won’t matter who they play.
But if they get through this gauntlet relatively unscathed, and don’t let the pressure control the narrative or how the team plays, it will go a long way toward cementing themselves as one of the top teams in the NFL.