With the 49ers assured a playoff spot, Niner Noise takes a look at who among their potential Round 1 opponents could cause the most problems.
It is rather nice to be a San Francisco 49ers fan at the moment. For the first time in what seems like years, the Niners are both in the playoff race and are not leaving whether they get in or not to the final play of the season’s last game.
Since head coach Kyle Shanahan joined San Francisco, it’s been either one or the other of those ideas standing as untrue. In 2017, 2018, and 2020 the Niners had losing seasons and were out of the playoff picture over the final stretch of the season, while in 2019 and 2021, they left the question of either their seeding or whether they’d get into the dance at all to the literal last moment.
So, yes, it’s nice not to have to worry about that. And while there are still three regular-season games to play, all of which could have an impact on seeding (especially with the recent reports surrounding an injury to Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts), there is a certain sense of calm allowable by the 49ers’ current position.
With that in mind, it makes sense to jump ahead a little and take a look at who the Niners could end up facing off against in the Wild Card game at Levi’s Stadium in the second weekend of January.
We’ll be using Football Outsiders a good deal for the analysis here, but its first usage will be to decipher what San Francisco’s most likely playoff matchups are.
According to FO’s playoff odds, the Niners actually have the best odds to finish as the NFC’s No. 2 seed at 71.6 percent, with the Minnesota Vikings being the only other team with any chance at locking themselves into that spot with 27.4-percent odds (Philadelphia has the other 0.5-percent chance should it lose the top slot).
But we also know the 49ers can finish no lower than the three seed because the winner of the NFC South cannot win more than nine games, locking that division champion into the fourth seed.
That background investigation makes this exercise quite a bit easier and we can use those same odds to indicate which Wild Card teams are likely to finish in the sixth or seventh spots, the two positions that will take on either the two or three seeds in the Wild Card round.
Using that data, the most likely first-round opponents for San Francisco are as follows:
- New York Giants (64 percent as a six seed, 21.1 percent as a seven seed)
- Detroit Lions (17.1 percent as a six seed, 29.2 percent as a seven seed)
- Seattle Seahawks (9.3 percent as a six seed, 24.2 percent as a seven seed)
- Washington Commanders (4.3 percent as a six seed, 20.7 percent as a seven seed)
Everyone else in the NFC is either eliminated from the playoffs altogether (Chicago Bears, Arizona Cardinals, LA Rams) or is in the NFC South and so in a win-the-division-or-bust scenario.
With all that set, let’s take a look at which of those four teams is least to be feared first.