There are four teams jammed up at the top of the NFC playoff picture, yet the 49ers hold significant tiebreaking advantages over the others.
Remember last offseason when every NFL analyst out there was pointing out how the AFC was the vastly superior conference?
Well, the prediction was half right. The AFC hasn't quite been a juggernaut, but the NFC has featured those three teams and then some, namely the Detroit Lions, who are right there in the NFC playoff picture after 14 weeks of action.
In fact, all four of those teams are right in the thick of the race for the No. 1 seed in the conference, which would enjoy homefield advantage throughout the playoffs and a first-round bye during the Wild Card round.
Here are the standings in the NFC with Week 14 (almost) complete:
- San Francisco 49ers (10-3)*
- Dallas Cowboys (10-3)*
- Detroit Lions (9-4)*
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-7)*
- Philadelphia Eagles (10-3)
- Minnesota Vikings (7-6)
- Green Bay Packers (6-6)+
*denotes division leader
+playing Monday night in Week 14
Three teams have 10-3 records, the Niners, Cowboys and Eagles. And Detroit is just a game behind at 9-4.
Considering how many teams are bunched up toward the top of the NFC, tiebreakers are likely to come into play.
49ers tiebreaking scenarios vs. Cowboys, Eagles
The full list of playoff-determining tiebreakers, which can be found here, involves only one that would matter if San Francisco finishes with the same regular-season record as either Dallas or Philly, and it's one that is relevant now after Week 14.
The 49ers have the good fortune of having defeated both the Cowboys and Eagles this season. Since they aren't teams within the division, the Niners won't play either for the rest of the regular season. Simply put, San Francisco owns the only tiebreaker that would matter against those two NFC East squads
Slightly more interesting, the Cowboys hold a more obscure tiebreaker over the Eagles despite the two teams splitting the season series this year. Dallas has a better division record at 4-1 than Philly's 3-1 mark.
49ers tiebreaking scenarios vs. Lions
The 49ers do not play Detroit this season, and their division records would matter since those are separate, too.
So, should the Niners and Lions somehow finish with identical records while jockeying for better seeding, the tiebreakers would go to the following:
- Best won-lost-tied percentage in common games.
- Best won-lost-tied percentage in games played within the conference.
- Strength of victory in all games.
- Strength of schedule in all games
There are five common opponents the two teams have played, and Detroit will play the Minnesota Vikings, a team that beat San Francisco, twice on the remaining schedule.
Should that win percentage wind up being identical, though, the 49ers and Lions would settle the tiebreaker via the best conference record.
Right now, the Niners are 8-1. Detroit is 6-3.