Three Reasons Why the San Francisco 49ers Will Win Out
The San Francisco 49ers head into the final quarter of the season well placed to make the playoffs but likely needing to win out to secure a first-round bye for the postseason.
Following the Niners' loss to the Baltimore Ravens in Week 13 and the Seattle Seahawks' dramatic win over the Minnesota Vikings on Monday Night Football, it is Pete Carroll's team that have the lead of the NFC West and, as it stands, the bye.
Seattle's thrilling overtime victory over the Niners in Week 10 gives the Seahawks the tiebreaker over San Francisco. To ensure it is they who wins the division and can rest during Wild Card weekend, there is a strong chance the 49ers will have to win all of their remaining games, including a Week 17 meeting with the Seahawks in Seattle.
With the New Orleans Saints who, like the 49ers and Seahawks, hold a 10-2 record, next on the horizon for San Francisco before games with the Atlanta Falcons, Los Angeles Rams and Seattle, that appears a difficult task.
However, there are numerous reasons why the Niners will achieve the seemingly improbable and complete a 14-2 season. Here we look at three.
They're finally getting healthy
Arguably the most impressive aspect of San Francisco's first winning season since 2013 has been the way the team has continued to thrive despite consistent injuries to key contributors.
However, going into a massive road game with the Saints, the 49ers' injury situation is finally trending in the right direction. Only three players missed practice on Wednesday, with just two – Jaquiski Tartt (ribs) and Jullian Taylor (elbow) – doing so because of injury.
Wide receivers Emmanuel Sanders and Deebo Samuel were both full participants after battling through injuries in recent weeks while running back Matt Breida is in line to return from an ankle problem.
Left tackle Joe Staley is ready to return from a finger injury while edge rusher Dee Ford is also on track to play. The 49ers are heading into the business end of the season with their roster in increasingly rude health. When the Niners are healthy, they are perhaps the best team in football, and they can prove that by running the table in the final four games.
Only one more dual-threat to face
The 49ers' excellent defense has had difficulties defending dual-threat quarterbacks Kyler Murray and Lamar Jackson this season. Option plays and zone-read runs have kept a defense that is at its best when allowed to be aggressive on its heels, though San Francisco did make strides against Jackson in the second half in Baltimore.
Thankfully, San Francisco must face just one more dual-threat quarterback in the regular season, with that matchup coming when they renew acquaintances with Seattle's Russell Wilson in Week 17. Wilson is not as dangerous running the ball as Jackson and Murray, and the Niners' pass rush was able to have success against him in Week 9, sacking the MVP candidate five times.
Drew Brees, Matt Ryan and Jared Goff offer no such threat, meaning a pass defense that has racked up 45 sacks and held opposing teams to a league-best 134.2 yards per game should be able to impose its will and demonstrate why it is the best unit in the NFL.
They're peaking at the right time
The trip to New Orleans ends a three-game run that was seen as the most daunting of San Francisco's season and, thankfully for head coach Kyle Shanahan, his team played some of their best football in the opening two contests of that stretch against the Green Bay Packers and the Ravens.
A devastating and exceptionally balanced performance saw the passing attack, ground game, and defense all contribute to a crushing victory over the Packers in Week 12. In an extremely encouraging sign, the run game continued to flourish in an engrossing duel with the Ravens in which Baltimore was held to its lowest points total of the season.
Only a missed Robbie Gould kick and a successful game-winner from Justin Tucker condemned the Niners to their second defeat of the season in a game that provided further evidence San Francisco can beat any team on any field.
The 49ers are a team that is clicking on both sides of the ball. They are getting healthy and they are getting valuable contributions from starters and backups alike – as Marcell Harris' strip of Jackson last week evidenced.
San Francisco's final four matchups are games in which its exceptional defense should be able to impact the game significantly and make life a lot easier on Jimmy Garoppolo and the offense. There has been nothing in recent displays to suggest a drop-off in their performance is likely and, providing they maintain the level of the last two weeks, the 49ers will head into the playoffs as the number one seed.