49ers news: Is No. 2 seed in NFL playoffs worth it for San Francisco?

Kirk Cousins #8 of the Minnesota Vikings and Head Coach Kyle Shanahan of the San Francsico 49ers (Photo by Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images)
Kirk Cousins #8 of the Minnesota Vikings and Head Coach Kyle Shanahan of the San Francsico 49ers (Photo by Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images) /

The 49ers likely lost their chance to secure the No. 1 seed in the NFL playoffs with the Eagles’ Week 15 win, but the No. 2 seed is still very much in play.

It would have been a long shot, but the San Francisco 49ers could have hoped the Chicago Bears somehow upset the Philadelphia Eagles over the course of the Week 15 weekend.

That didn’t happen, though, as Philly maintained its hold on the No. 1 seed in the NFC playoff picture with the 25-20 victory, improving to a league-best 13-1 record. And, with three weeks left in the regular season, the 10-4 Niners are effectively eliminated from securing the top seed in the conference and all that comes with it, including the first-round bye during the Wild Card round and home-field advantage through the conference championship game.

Alas, however, the No. 2 seed is still a target for head coach Kyle Shanahan and Co.

San Francisco won its Week 15 matchup over the Seattle Seahawks on Thursday Night Football, 21-13, meaning the 49ers clinch the NFC West and will host a home game during the Wild Card round.

It also means the Niners are currently the No. 3 seed. Had the Minnesota Vikings not overcome a 33-0 deficit against the Indianapolis Colts on Saturday, as the 39-36 overtime final turned into the largest comeback in NFL history, San Francisco would be sitting in the No. 2 seed.

Both Minnesota and the 49ers would have had identical 10-4 records, had that been the case, yet the Niners own the tiebreaker based on a better conference record.

With three weeks left before the postseason begins, San Francisco can either choose to gun for the No. 2 seed and swap places with the Vikings, assuming one of Minnesota’s remaining opponents helps out a bit, or it can elect to rest the bulk of its starting players in an attempt to stay healthy.

What will Shanahan elect to do?

49ers playoff picture: Kyle Shanahan remains vague about final 3 games

Understandably, Shanahan isn’t going to tip his hand regarding whether or not he’ll treat the 49ers’ final three games as vital-to-win contests with the hope of passing over the Vikings.

Yes, he understands the importance of both resting players and avoiding history, however, he also realizes the “rest versus rust” argument. Momentum is a real thing, and the Niners’ seven-game win streak could be impacted if Shanahan’s best players don’t see much of the field until the Wild Card round.

“I think you have to be smart,” Shanahan said when asked about resting players or competing heavily for playoff positioning. “I mean, you never just want to stop. You can’t lose your edge. It’s not something you can turn on and off. At the same time, you do need to be smart. It’s very important to get home games. So, we’ll do everything we can to do that, but by no means at the expense of risking someone that we shouldn’t be doing.”

Everything and nothing in that answer. It’s not surprising.

Assuming it comes down to San Francisco having to travel to Minnesota to take on the Vikings instead of hosting them at Levi’s Stadium, would Shanahan be OK with taking the proverbial foot off the gas these last three weeks?


How would 49ers approach final 3 weeks of regular season?

The 49ers’ next three opponents are as follows:

  • Week 16 vs. Washington Commanders
  • Week 17 @ Las Vegas Raiders
  • Week 18 vs. Arizona Cardinals

Washington is in a fight for a Wild Card spot with the Dallas Cowboys and New York Giants, as all four teams from the NFC East could feasibly make the postseason. So, needless to say, Week 16 will matter a lot for Washington.

The Raiders, meanwhile, aren’t making the postseason. Neither are the Cardinals.

Perhaps that means Shanahan is less concerned about Weeks 17 and 18 than he is about the upcoming game versus the Commanders.

Either way, though, it’s likely the head coach puts a snap count on a good chunk of his star players, particularly those who are already dealing with notable injuries, and the San Francisco Chronicle’s Eric Branch broke down how that might play out down the stretch:

"It probably means All-Pro running back Christian McCaffrey won’t be replicating his most recent workload before mid-January. McCaffrey had 32 touches against the Seahawks, matching the third-most of his 72-game career, and played 89% of the snaps, his most in eight games with the 49ers.And it likely means quarterback Brock Purdy, who was questionable to play against Seattle due to oblique and rib injuries, won’t have another gut-it-out performance in the regular season if he experiences a setback. And Pro Bowl pass rusher Nick Bosa, who has been nursing a balky hamstring and played 80% of the snaps Thursday, may not reach that figure for a fifth time this season.And it wouldn’t be a surprise if All-Pro wide receiver Deebo Samuel (knee, ankle), whose tentative timeline to return would allow him to start in the regular-season finale against Arizona, doesn’t play again until the postseason."

Related Story: These Niners players should be on a snap count over final 3 games

In all likelihood, it’s going to be a balancing act for Shanahan and Co. And there could be some scoreboard watching, too, with the Vikings hosting the Giants in the early slate of Saturday games in Week 16, while San Francisco plays the 4:05 p.m. game that same day.

Regardless, the 49ers’ attention to the No. 2 seed might dissipate quickly depending on how things go over the course of Week 16.

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