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San Francisco's rough and rocky road to the NFL playoffs

Colin Kaepernick stands in the pocket and delivers a strike to Michael Crabtree
Colin Kaepernick stands in the pocket and delivers a strike to Michael Crabtree

Every year around this time, the NFL season tries to put certain teams out to pasture prematurely. With four games remaining for the (7-5) San Francisco 49ers, the third place NFC West team has control of their playoff lives. Basically, if San Francisco wins their remaining games, they’ll earn at least a wildcard playoff berth. In the best case scenario, San Francisco could end up winning the division on the last day of the NFL season.

However, NBC Sunday Night Football analyst, Tony Dungy believes that San Francisco will have a tough time making the postseason. During his weekly interview on the Dan Patrick Show, Dungy stated that it would be tough for a “(10-6) team in the NFC West” to make the playoffs. Currently, there are six teams in the NFC with better records than San Francisco. That’s why San Francisco’s best, and maybe only chance to make the postseason is to sweep the month of December.

The good news is that San Francisco has already beaten the (9-3) Eagles, and the (8-4) Cowboys earlier this season. Therefore, San Francisco will win the tie-breaker over any of those teams vying for the wildcard. The NFC East is coming down to a two team race, and Philadelphia has a home game against Dallas left. If the 49ers have anything to say about it, they’ll appreciate the Eagles a bit more with a sweep over Dallas. On the surface, it looks like Dallas has a ridiculously tough schedule in December. With three road games left, and a home game against the Colts, the Cowboys could fold down the stretch again. However, the 2014 Cowboys haven’t lost on the road this season.

Besides Arizona and Seattle in the NFC West, San Francisco’s biggest competitor for the final wild card spot might come down to the (8-4) Detroit Lions. The Lions face the Buccaneers this week, and finish the season with three straight NFC North opponents. Their final game is on the road at Green Bay. There’s a chance that NFC teams could win the division title or miss out on the playoffs entirely.

When it comes down to the San Francisco 49ers, their schedule can be navigated quite easily if they play well. Two of San Francisco’s opponents hail from the AFC West, while the two division foes are directly ahead of the 49ers. In those situations, San Francisco has the chance to kill two birds with one stone.

Their impending game is against the Oakland Raiders on the road. First and foremost, San Francisco needs to come out strong and demolish the Raiders early. They need to show a semblance of the Super Bowl contenders from the past three years.

Then San Francisco travels to Seattle to redeem their effort from the Thanksgiving night debacle. It’s already been confirmed that Seattle can be beaten at home, but it’s not certain that the 49ers have the ability to get the job done this year. There’s a chance that San Francisco could bypass Seattle with a win. After all, Seattle travels to Philadelphia this week.

The 49ers finish up their remaining schedule with two home games. There’s no question that San Francisco must win the final two games of the season. So far, San Francisco is a .500 team at home, and they’ve already given away a couple of games in dramatic fashion. If the 49ers just had one of those wins, the whole tenor of the conversation would take on a different tone. Yet, there’s no time to look into the past.

The first home game is against the San Diego Chargers. It’s likely that San Diego will still be fighting for one of the coveted AFC playoff spots. Therefore, San Francisco will not have an easy path. If the 49ers are coming off of a second loss to the Seattle, the entire structure of the organization is on the line. With Michigan making their decision to fire Brady Hoke, some pundits believe the Wolverines will go heavy to bring Jim Harbaugh in. If this is remotely true, San Francisco’s season could be done before their final home game.

San Francisco’s season finale is with the oft injured Arizona Cardinals. Although the Cardinals still lead the NFC West, their two game lead over San Francisco might be by the wayside before the week 17 match up.

When it comes down to it, San Francisco must win out. We just have to find out if their winning days are over. Once that’s the case, the 49ers should start anew with another regime. Let’s see if they can make a postseason run before that happens.