There are two reasons why this game against the Arizona Cardinals matters deeply to the 49ers.
First, there are playoff implications. If the 49ers win, they’ll be 11-4-1. They’ll get the No.2 seed and a first-round Bye if the Packers lose to the Vikings. If the Packers beat the Vikings, the 49ers get the No.3 seed and they would not get a Bye. They would play the No.6 seed at Candlestick in the Wild Card round.
The No.6 seed could be one of four teams: The Vikings, the Bears, the Redskins or the Giants. If Minnesota beats the Packers, the Vikings are the No.6 seed. If they lose and Chicago beats the Lions, the Bears are the No.6 seed. If the Vikings and the Bears lose, and the Giants win, and the Redskins beat the Cowboys, then Giants are the No.6 seed. But if the Redskins lose to the Cowboys, and the Vikings, Bears and Giants all lose, then the Redskins are the No.6 seed.
If the 49ers lose to the Cardinals and the Seahawks beat the Rams (they’re playing in Seattle, so I’m guessing the Seahawks will win), the 49ers would be the No.5 seed and open the playoffs on the road against the winner of the NFC East – the Redskins or the Cowboys.
So, the 49ers need a win to help their playoff seeding. But they also need to win convincingly to regain their confidence.
The 49ers are in the middle of a complete tailspin. Ever since Justin Smith left the Patriots game in the third quarter, the 49ers have been outscored by 50 points. The defense hasn’t stopped running backs or pressured quarterbacks or beaten offenses on third down or in the red zone. There are six Pro Bowlers on the 49ers defense, but they’re shell shocked over the loss of Justin Smith.
The 49ers also need to prove that they can score on offense, too. They scored 13 points last week. They’ve scored 13 or fewer points five times this year. Their running game is slumping, their third down offense is slumping and their red zone offense is slumping. That’s a lot of slumping.
The 49ers are a boxer who’s been knocked down twice. He’s up on points in the 12th round but he’s wobbling in the corner. The 49ers need to shake it off and land a knockout punch on the Cardinals this Sunday. The 49ers need to prove to they still believe in themselves and they’re still a Super Bowl contender.