If the Niners win the last three games on their regular season schedule, these past two losses over the last three weeks will mean bupkis.
They’ll be the No. 2 seed and they’ll get a first round Bye. If they have to play the Saints, they’ll get to play them at Candlestick Park.
I think the Niners can win all three of their last regular season games, but it won’t be easy.
Let’s assign a degree of difficulty to each one, saving the upcoming Monday night game against the Pittsburgh Steelers for last.
The Seahawks in Seattle on a short week, Degree of Difficulty: 8 out of 10. The Niners will have two less days of rest and preparation for this one, because they’ll be coming off a Monday nighter, and this one is on the following Saturday. That’s unfortunate, because the Seahawks are one of the hotter teams around, having won four of their last five games including a 22-17 victory over the Baltimore Ravens. What’s more, they have one of the strongest home field advantages in the NFL – a lot of the Niners players consider CenturyLink Field the loudest stadium in the league.
The Niners barely beat the Seahawks at Candlestick back in Week 1. Ted Ginn Jr. had to return two kicks for touchdowns to seal the game in the fourth quarter.
Alex Smith and the offense went 1 for 12 on third down in that game and 1 for 5 in the red zone. The Seahawks offense had 18 first downs compared to the Niners 12, and they outgained the Niners 219 yards to 209.
The Seahawks are even tougher now than they were back then – Marshawn Lynch is the hottest running back in football. The Niners front seven should be able to hold him under 100 yards rushing, which gives the team a good chance to win this tough road game.
But the Niners will not win if their offense fails to score touchdowns.
The Rams in St. Louis: 1 out of 10. The Rams get the one point because they’re at home, but really they’re a dreadful team no matter which one of their quarterbacks plays.
Now to the Steelers game.
Scenario One: A James Harrison-less Steelers at Candlestick with a hobbled Ben Roethlisberger playing QB: 9 out of 10. Yes, James Harrison is suspended for the game. But outside linebacker Lamarr Woodley is coming back from a hamstring injury. Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin expects him to play, and he’s just as good as Harrison. The Steelers have the No.1 ranked pass D, No. 6 ranked run D. If Frank Gore could get 25 carries and rush for 100 yards, the Niners would have a great chance to win this one, but he only got 10 carries last week, and Harbaugh says he’s not 100 percent, so that may not happen.
On the other side of the ball, the Steelers have two of the fastest wide receivers in the league – Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown. Ben Roethlisberger wants to slide around the pocket long enough for one of those two to get open, and when they do he hits one of them and it’s a big play.
With an injured ankle, Roethlisberger won’t be able to slide so much. The Niners pass rush, which has been slow and methodical the last few games, will need to pounce on the Steelers mediocre offensive line and stay in Roethlisberger’s face the whole game.
Scenario Two: A James Harrison-less Steelers at Candlestick with backup Charlie Batch playing QB: 6 out of 10. The Niners just lost to a backup QB – John Skelton – so that gives pause. But Charlie Batch isn’t even on Skelton’s level, not even close. Batch is 37 years old and his career QB rating is 77.8. If he plays, the Niners will be heavy favorites.
But don’t expect to see Batch, because Roethlisberger is known for manning up and playing hurt.