The 49ers clinched the No. 1 overall seed in the NFC with their victory over the Commanders and the Eagles loss to the Cardinals. Here's why the seeding position matters so much for the 49ers.
The 49ers regular season goal heading into the season was to be the best team in the NFC, securing the No. 1 seed. Though they stumbled at points in the season, with their three-game losing streak highlighting a rough stretch in particular, they were able to acheive that goal, clinching the NFC No. 1 seed with a victory over the Commanders and the Eagles and Lions losing.
For the 49ers though, this might have been the most important victory of the season. With the new format of the NFL playoffs, getting the No. 1 seed means that the 49ers will be the only team with a bye in the playoffs, and clinching it early means that next week's game against the Rams no longer has playoff implications. These factors have a direct connection to the 49ers attempt to win the Super Bowl. Here's why.
49ers have functionally won a playoff game already
Often overlooked in discussing the first-round bye, the 49ers get to skip Wild-Card weekend. There are benefits to resting that week, which will be discussed shortly, but the most obvious benefit is that the 49ers have one less playoff game to play. That is one less game where a fluke injury can occur, where a team might be having an off day, where the elements might play a factor, etc. The NFL offers a unique playoff challenge because teams only play one game to advance. They do not have to be the best team over the course of a season, only better than the team they are facing that one weekend. The 49ers get to avoid that debacle - they "start" the playoffs 1-0, when 4 victories means hoisting the Lombardi trophy.
49ers get to rest their injured, and not injured, players
The other benefit of the first-round bye, which is talked about more often, is the rest factor. Football is a violent sport, and nearly every player is dealing with some injury entering the postseason. The 49ers have started to deal with the injury bug more acutely as the season winds to an end. The biggest name who stands to benefit is defensive tackle Arik Armstead, whose foot injury has been nagging the entire season. Two additional weeks of rest will allow Armstead to get back on the field, allow Ray-Ray McCloud to get healthy at returner, and allow Christian McCaffrey to heal up his new calf injury.
But beyond the explicit injuries, the 49ers will also be able to rest up and heal the smaller nicks and bruises that can sap a team of energy. The 49ers this season have lost games when they clearly lose steam - the three-game losing streak coming right before their bye week and the loss to the Ravens after another six-game burst of dominant victories. While it is not the best that the team has lost steam during the regular season, that does not matter anymore. What does matter is that the 49ers will have two weeks of rest to win two games, then another week of rest for another game. Issues of fatigue, which plagued the 49ers in 2013 and 2021, should not be a factor.
49ers do not have to travel until the Super Bowl
Home-field advantage has two benefits in the NFL. One, tied in with rest, is that teams do not have to travel. That keeps sleep schedules in line, bodies in familiar beds, and no real changes to the schedule. The other is the obvious one - teams are playing at home throughout the playoffs. For the 49ers, whose fanbase has now consistently supported the team, that gives them an imposing presence for any team to walk into. The 49ers are 5-2 at home, losing to the Bengals and the Ravens, but have historically played very well in Levi's. More importantly, California weather in January is not the sludge of snow, sleet, and rain that other locales have to deal with. Though the 49ers can handle a game in the elements if need be, they will be better off without them.
The Super Bowl being played in Las Vegas in a dome is an added benefit for the 49ers this playoff run - they will not have to travel far if they win the NFC, and the elements will not play a role in the Super Bowl either.
Since 1990, 50% of No. 1 seeds have made it to the Super Bowl, and that was when both the No. 1 and 2 seeds received a first-round bye. The 49ers will have a tough road to hoist the Lombardi no matter what, but by winning the No. 1 seed, they have made that road just a touch easier.