49ers face a must-win game in season finale

Seattle Seahawks defensive end Jadeveon Clowney (90) applies pressure to San Francisco 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo (10) during an NFL football game in Santa Clara, Calif., Monday, Nov. 11, 2019. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar)

SANTA CLARA — Kind of a big game this Sunday.

If the 49ers win in Seattle, they will get the No. 1 seed in the NFC playoffs, a first-round bye week, home-field advantage and a fantastic chance to make the Super Bowl.

But if the 49ers lose in Seattle, they will get the No. 5 seed, no first-round bye, no home-field advantage and almost no chance to make the Super Bowl. They would have to win three straight on the road just to make the big game, a feat no West Coast team has ever pulled off.

The travel is simply too much to bear.

“I’ve seen people have to win three in a row the hard way, and they rallied together and did it,” 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan argued.

True. But in the history of the NFL, only four teams have won three straight road playoff games to make the Super Bowl: the 1985 New England Patriots, the 2005 Pittsburgh Steelers, the 2007 New York Giants and the 2010 Green Bay Packers. All four of those teams are east of the Mississippi River, where cities and franchises are bunched together. Three of those four teams — the Steelers, Giants and Packers — went on to win the Super Bowl.

No team west of the Mississippi River ever has won three straight road playoff games. Teams west of the Mississippi have farther to travel because they’re spread out.

Click here to read the rest of my article.

This article has 66 Comments

  1. This is the first time in a decade I’ve felt confident about my team heading into Seattle. It’s a strange feeling and I like it.

    My game plan: 1) Score early and often to get the home crowd out of it. 2) Sack the crap out of Hobbit boy
    3) Boot on neck and never let up.

    Also, I imagine there will be a significant Niners fan posse traveling up there. If the Faithful represent anywhere near the way they did in New Orleans, it’ll be epic.

    Finally, Go Niners!! Just win baby!

    1. They got lots of monkeys off their backs this season. Made fools of sniveling writers and “fans” alike. East coast wins. Back to back East coast wins. Sharp out of the bye. Win with defense. Win with offense. Win even with 5 TOS…. there’s no reason they can’t shoo this Seattle simian away also. Limping sea-schlocks are just asking to be taken down.

    2. Off topic, but a friend of mine, who is a big NY Giants fan, tells me Kaden Smith is being viewed by the Giants as a cornerstone TE. He’s been a pleasant surprise for the Giants this year, after being claimed off of waivers. He’s been an above average blocker, as well as a very reliable receiver.

      *Reminder – to my surprise, the 49ers released Smith, who was their 2019 6th round pick out of Stanford, earlier this season.

        1. I could care less about Smith’s 40 time Seb, as Toilolo is hardly a burner either. Levine ran a 4.81 40 at the combine, and that was all the way back in 2013. I understand Levine Toilolo is a blocking TE, but Smith’s been a superb blocker this year as well. Smith is also a rookie, with a lot more upside, and room to develop, while Toilolo is a journeyman TE, who is likely past his prime, and I believe below average in terms of DVOA at the TE position.

          Empire Sports Media – Kaden Smith is not just a great blocking tight end, in any case, Smith can make an impact as a pass-catcher, too. In his 5 games as a starter, Kaden Smith has caught 22 of his 30 targets (73% catch rate) for 170 yards and 3 touchdowns. He has been one of the most dependable receivers on the field for the Giants. He might not have the athletic ability and positional versatility that Evan Engram has, but Kaden Smith has the toughness, grit, and dependability that is necessary at his position. Kaden’s game-winning touchdown against the Redskins is an excellent example of how he has enough speed and route-separation to make plays as a tight end.

          I’ll obviously defer to ShanaLynch on this decision, as it’s hard to argue with a 12-3 record, and a potential #1 seed with a win on Sunday. Perhaps they felt like Smith wasn’t ready for prime time if called upon, but man ….. if I’m trying to build a perennial contender, I’m going with the first year player with the higher upside, especially if I’ve used a draft pick on him … that’s all I’m saying, Seb. Hammer will attest to the fact that I questioned the move when it happened, and the way in which Kaden Smith has blossomed with the Giants, my feelings haven’t changed one bit.

          Levine Toilolo – 2019: 2 Receptions for 10 yards, 0 TD’s
          Kaden Smith – 2019: 23 Receptions for 170 Yards, 3 TD’s (all coming over the last 6 games)

            1. SI – 12/27/2019 (earlier today): As a blocker, Smith gets quick position against his man every time, and he has more than enough battle and strength and athleticism to sustain his block long enough to make a difference. He’s even athletic enough to be used on pulls, which he did last week, delivering two textbook pancake finishes that cleared a defender out of the way. Smith isn’t necessarily the fastest tight end out there, which is believed to be a reason why his draft stock slipped so much. However, he’s very precise and doesn’t waste steps. As a receiver, he’s caught 23 of 30 pass targets this year, playing a non-flashy game that offers a lot of promise and intrigue for a regular role in next year’s offense.

      1. Losing Smith kinda sucked but also doesn’t really matter. You can find guys like him pretty easily. But I do agree it is kind of odd they felt they needed to keep Toilolo over him.

        1. Yah Scooter, that’s my thing. If you’re going to spend a draft pick on a player, and he’s at the very least comparable to a cheap, one-dimensional, journeyman TE on a 1 year – $805,000 contract, why not go with the younger player who clearly has a higher upside? I am not suggesting that Smith should have been considered ahead of Dwelley, but Toilolo? I understand that Toilolo was more familiar with the system, but I assumed if they saw any long term potential with Smith, even if it’s strictly as a blocking TE, that they’d keep him as their 3rd TE over Toilolo, who is certainly strictly a blocking TE. Why else would you bother drafting the kid? Odds are you could release Toilolo, and then bring him back if needed at some point. That’s what I thought they’d be thinking. Strange decision, but heck, at 12-3, I’m cutting them a little slack on this one. Maybe there is more to the story than meets the eye.

          1. Funny thing is … I had forgotten all about that decision until my die-hard-Giants-fan of a buddy decided to ask me to tell the 49ers “thanks for waiving that outstanding TE out of Stanford … all the guy has done is make plays all over the field ever since Evan Engram was lost for the season!”

            Of course, I quickly reminded him that the 49ers have bigger fish to fry, entering the final week of the regular season with the best record in the NFC, and with eye’s on the #1 prize, while the Giants are currently 4-11, despite playing in a laughing-stock of a division, LMAO!

            So yah, I got the last laugh, Scooter …. at least until next season.

  2. As an investment in keeping a competitive edge while facing demanding travel requirements, the Yorks should arrange to purchase and operate* a surplus C-5 Galaxy aircraft. Run it through a complete, no expense spared overhaul this coming off season. A portion of the huge cabin could be subdivided to accommodate state-of-the-art workout and training facilities. Spacious film rooms would be included, along with a couple top drawer galleys and a well-equipped medical clinic. All this in addition to the very best seating and in-flight entertainment systems available.

    Imagine a stylish 9er color scheme on such a large aircraft…

    *To offset operating costs, sponsors could have their identities displayed on the aircraft in exchange for $$. For example, The Press Democrat (PD) logo could appear on one of the main landing gear doors, but only if PD principles wouldn’t be compromised.

    1. 2 of the toilets should have the Seahawk logo painted around the interior of the bowl. 2 of the other toilets should have Pete Carroll’s face painted in the interior of the toilet with his mouth formed around the drain. Carroll’s picture should be the look on his face after Malcolm Butler intercepted Russell Wilson at the goal line in the SuperBowl.

  3. Jimmy and the O will most likely need to put up 30+ points to win since Saleh’s elite D is giving up an average of ~27 points over the last 7 games… Doable as long as they bring their A game and protect the rock. Would be lovely to watch the Niners celebrate the division title in that stadium.

  4. Kwon Alexander has played 360 snaps this year. Dee Ford has played 226 snaps this year. For a frame of reference Bosa, Buckner, and Armstead have all played over 700 snaps. Fred Warner has played over 900 snaps. Even Solomon Thomas, with 396 snaps, has played more than Alexander and Ford. What the 49ers have been able to do with 2 of their biggest offseason signings missing so much time has been nothing short of amazing. This year has been helluva lotta fun. And the future even looks brighter. Hopefully, the 49ers finish off Sunday as the #1 seed to put an exclamation point on an amazing regular season.

  5. I don’t care if they were using their backups throughout the lineup.
    I can’t say with confidence the Niners will go up there and finally win in that hellhole.
    I’m not saying they won’t or can’t, but I am not a confident fan like some.
    Until they snatch the ticket Seattle has on this team, it’s going to be a nerve racking game to watch.
    And what sucks worse is Arz and LA can go up there and beat them with no problem lately.
    I’d like to join those losers in this accomplishment.

    If it was the Niners in week 1-12
    I’d have no problem saying they will kill this team.
    But it’s not the same team.
    Shanny must run the ball down their throats they are horrible vs the run, keep Wilson in the sidelines, score early and often.

    I will say this. If the game is close in the 4th I don’t see SF pulling out a win.
    If SF wins, it will be by a healthy score difference.
    So it’s blowout Niners, or close win Seattle.

    1. You’re certainly right about one thing ninermd, the Niners need to run the ball down the Seahawks throat!!!! It’s one of the Niners’ greatest strengths and it’s also the Seahawks’ biggest defensive weakness. Plus, with the Seahawks’ injury riddled RB situation, the 49ers stand a very good chance of controlling the clock, while protecting the football in the process – two key’s to winning on the road, in an extremely hostile environment.

  6. Sunday’s Seattle weather forecast is improving–rain the morning, pretty much stopped by mid-afternoon. About 45 degrees at kickoff.

    Small cluster of minor earthquakes earlier in December, east of Seattle.

      1. No worries Houston. AB is unable to play, even if the Saints sign him for some reason. He’s still on the Commisioner’s exempt list and the NFL is nowhere near completing their investigation, and reinstating him.

        1. No, AB is NOT on the Commissioner’s Exempt List. Please keep your facts straight, it’s not that hard.
          If the Saints sign him, then the NFL will put him on the Exempt List until their investigation is complete. While on that status the League would be paying him not to play, not the Saints.
          The liklihood of AB playing in this year’s playoffs seems remote to me, but if Drew and Sean can help him keep his head together he could be a Hella asset in 2020, with the off season as a way to fit him under their cap.

  7. I’ll operate under the assumption that Jimmy G and to a lesser extent Shanahan are aware of this situation and have it under control. Perhaps they can find a way to flip it to a niner advantage?


    Seahawks squawk proudly about stealing 49ers’ keys, signals in overtime win; but this isn’t over
    49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo tipped some of his checks and keys, Seahawks defenders said

  8. Seb says:
    December 26, 2019 at 3:29 pm
    Valaoga had been on the Niners squad since training camp, so he knew the playbook better than Zettel. Valaoga had played in the last 4 games for the Niners, and knocked down a pass against the Rams.

    Reply: Seb, thought you attended UCD. Research is fundamental there so I doubt your claim.

    Anthony Zettel’s D-Line coach in Detroit where he was drafted was Kris Kocurek who coached there from 2010-2017. Zettel played in his “Wide 9 Concept” (getting after the QB) 2016-2018 so actually knows this concept better than Valaoga.

    Seb, I will just leave you with this gem from the Detroit Lions Scouting Dept. before they drafted him:

    “Zettel is capable of playing inside or outside on the defensive line and has experience playing in multiple alignments along the front. He shows quick eyes, great reflexes and the instincts to read the play on the go…Det. Lions Scouting Dept.”

    So he is a jack-of-all-trades and can replace useless Solly in the interior, whereas Valaoga only plays DE.
    In scouting his Penn State and Det. Lion film, I noticed better value outside with zettel, however, if Sol Thomas continues his slump, Kocurek won’t hesitate to move him inside.

    I think Shany said it best: “Kris Kocurek” worked with him so knows him well.

    I fully expect him to impact this game enough to move Wilson off his spot–(make him uncomfortable).

  9. Zettel went from the Lions, then Brownies to the Bungles. If he could not make it on those teams, I wonder why some one would think he could make it on the Niners. There was a reason why the Bungles waived him.
    I sure hope he does well, but his job history is not impressive.

    1. Seb,

      Around NFL circles Seb, Zettel is known as a rotational player. At least he is good enough to have never been on a practice squad….Rotational players life in the NFL is not stable due to injuries on other teams….In other words, they are ‘hired hands’, available to the highest bidder.

      Green Bay actually put in a claim for him earlier this season to bolster their D-Line rotation.

      Many in NFL circles have stated he shows well on film!…Lets hope he has a good playoff film to sell the NFL for the highest bidder…I’m sure his time in Cleveland will give him extra motivation against the Seahawks as well :)

      FYI: The Bengals waived him because they have a new defensive coordinator running a 3/4, so just signed a 3/4 type player. Zettel is a 4/3 DE who can be bumped inside on passing downs for a slumping Solomon Thomas if Thomas plays poorly.

        1. If Kris Kocurek and Martin Mayhew (49er Vice Pres. of Player Personnel ) believe in him, so do I.
          Mayhew’s other Detroit signing, Laken Tomlinson, was being promoted as Pro Bowl material by Joe Staley this year….How’s that working out?

          You might recall, Martin Mayhew was the General Manager of the Detroit Lions from 2008-20015…Give him a call, let him know your opionion, then get back to us.

          All I can do is say: “Wait and see.”

  10. Why do I think this game will be a daunting challenge?
    The coaching. They seem to plug and play various players, and get the most out of them. Pete Carroll , even though I must grudgingly say it, is a SB winning coach, who is a master motivator. Of course, he has the 49er pedigree, being the DC for 2 seasons. KS will need to coach the game of his life, in order to defeat Pete Carroll, who will have a few tricks up his sleeve. The Niner offense needs to be balanced, so the Seahawks must defend against either the run or pass. I hope they run different plays out of the same set. The Niners should go with a 2 TE set, to help chip Clowney every play.
    Another reason, will be the hostile environment of the Clink, although the aura of invincibility has been shattered with 3 losses by the Seahawks up there. The Niners should run the hurry up, no huddle offense, with quick varied snaps, so the crowd noise does not build to a crescendo. Getting an early 2 score Niner lead might dampen the crowd’s enthusiasm, too.
    Another good reason why the Seahawks are a tough foe is Russell Wilson. Even though he lost his 3 main RBs, his passing and running will be hard to defend against. He has engineered many comebacks, and is a SB winner. Hopefully, the Niners can dial up some safety blitzes, and sack him 5 times.
    While some are predicting a Niner blowout, I will just remind them that they also predicted the same thing against the Falcons.
    Niners 24-23.

    1. Seb,

      The 49ers players played like the Falcons were a meaningless game–lackadaisical.

      To a man, the 49ers all knew it would come down to the final 2 games vs. the Rams and ‘Hawks.

      Be happy, although I’m not sure of the rumors of an Earl Thomas return will help (due to injuries)….I think he can still clog the middle though, making it difficult for Marshawn.

    2. The simple fact is you feel responsible for Goose and you have a confidence problem. Now I’m not gonna sit here and blow sunshine up your a**, Lieutenant. A good pilot is compelled to evaluate what’s happened, so he can apply what he’s learned. Up there, we gotta push it. That’s our job.

  11. 49ers Consensus favorites in Seattle for first time since 2011

    TomD’s Take: 49ers faced Seattle w/o bookend, Dee Ford; 49ers lined up a rookie placekicker who missed the game winner; 49ers just signed Anthony Zettel who will at least make Wilson think about other players in the rotation; Seattle is injured; 49ers were also favorites in their 1st game by 6.5 pts.

    1. “The Seahawks will be without RBs Rashaad Penny, Chris Carson, C.J. Prosise and OT Duane Brown, all of whom are out for the regular season. QB Russell Wilson and Seattle’s wide receivers are healthy, but the Seahawks will need one of the best games of Wilson’s career if they are to win the division. RB Marshawn Lynch is back to do his best to help. Can he play?”

      The pick: 49ers 31 Seahawks 23


  12. “Ever since the Seahawks laid a 42-13 beatdown on the 49ers in Week 16 of the 2012 season, CenturyLink Field has represented something of a dark cloud over the 49ers. They’re 0-8 there since 2012, including the loss in the 2014 NFC Championship…It’s been a house of horrors …

    Knocking off the Seahawks on the road would be the final box for head coach Kyle Shanahan and this new era of 49ers football to check. They can regain NFC West supremacy…

    The good news for the 49ers is that they should win. They’re the better team, and believe it or not, healthier team going into the final week.


  13. NFL Defensive Rankings:

    Game Stats
    Rk Team G Pts/G TotPts Scrm Plys Yds/G Yds/P 1st/G 3rd Md 3rd Att 3rd Pct 4th Md 4th Att 4th Pct Pen Pen Yds ToP/G FUM Lost
    1 New England Patriots 15 13.2 198 880 268.3 4.6 15.7 42 183 23 8 21 38 103 885 27:56 24 11
    2 San Francisco 49ers 15 19.3 289 897 277.4 4.6 17.2 56 178 32 7 22
    32 111 928 28:45 27 15

    NFL Team Opponent Passing Yards per Game

    1 San Francisco 165.6 291.0 323.0 157.9 174.4 233.2
    2 New England 170.7 199.3 176.0 188.0 155.5 247.7

    I think San Francisco knows what it’s doing, don’t you, Seb?

  14. This game will be played by the gladiators, but will be won and lost by the coaches….unlike most of our contributors, I like Pete Carroll and respect him as a clever, and creative coach as well as a strong motivational force. That said, I think that we’re blessed with Kyle Shannahan…..probably the best OC in todays game…just coming into his own…I think that Pete will be finally be overmatched….but what a game it’s going to be….! Hawks 24- Niners 40

    1. The problem was- KS the OC did not think like KS the HC, should have.
      In the first matchup, if KS had run the ball in OT, with the Seahawks without any time outs, he would have secured a tie. Then, the Niners record would have possibly been 12-2-1. The Seahawk record would have been 10-4-1, so the Niners would have secured the division title.

      1. Seb…if the dog hadn’t stopped to crap, he’d have caught the rabbit….we’re 12-3 quit bitching about the past….

      2. Seb, had we tied the Seattle game and lose on Sunday we would win the division but not get a bye. I believe that makes it a mute point. The loss to the Falcons stings but every team has a let down game. We win on Sunday and we are in the driver seat. Just go out and execute and we shall prevail. And thank God for Shanahan, who made this possible in short 3 years. We owe him all the accolades and props after all the criticism the last few year. Harbaugh inherited a good team that was out coached, Shanahan inherited a skeleton of a team and he brought us playoff football in short 3 years.

        1. I prefer that the Niners win, but if the Saints or Packers lose, the Niners would get that first round bye, if they had tied against the Seahawks earlier.
          I agree, the Niners need to play disciplined, in control and with few mistakes.
          I have praised KS when he does well, especially using his time outs wisely. However, second guessing is a time honored tradition in every sport. KS needs to be bold, and go for it. He wants to be a champion, so he should act like a champion.

  15. In the 49ers first meeting against the Seahawks the 49ers had their 2nd lowest rush yard total for the year with 87 yards. Tevin Coleman led the 49ers with 9 rushes for 40 yards. The Seahawks loaded up against the run because the 49ers were without Kittle and Sanders was relatively new & left the game early. Consequently, Deebo Samuels went off with 8 receptions for 112 yards. Also, Staley and McGlinchey were just back from injury so they were definitely not playing at their normal level which is why Clowney had a career day. Seahawks are ranked 26th in the NFL against the rush. My prediction is the 49ers open up the rush with a few passes to Kittle and Sanders. Then the run game takes over. Won’t be an easy win but the 49ers will win.

    49ers – 28
    Seahawks – 20


    I’ve been advocating the 49ers use a 5-man pass rush vs. Seattle and Baltimore to clog up the scrambling lanes while also keeping him contained by the DE’s.

    Finally, another NFL insider, Charley Casserlie is saying the same:

    “Once the 49ers’ D-line secures the run and realizes the play is a pass, it can focus on keeping Wilson in the pocket. That’s accomplished by players staying in their lanes and maintaining disciplined spacing between one another so holes don’t open for Wilson to run.”

    There are also times when Wilson scrambles when he doesn’t get his first read, but if the 49ers can stay disciplined, they can prevent him from making big plays with his legs. Then, that’s when they can get the sacks. Look for the 49ers to pressure Wilson by bringing five or six rushers because the fifth and sixth guys would have no other responsibilities than simply rushing the passer. The original front four are assigned with keeping Wilson in the pocket.”

    1. TomD….I agree about your 5-man rush which should break open that ‘wall’ that protects Wilson so well ….It’s very nerve-wracking with Wilson back there though….I’m watching my ‘big boy’ Armstead and betting that He’s going to tattoo Russell early in the game….LBs should also play large….

  17. Anthony Zettel’s MMA Career:

    You got involved with MMA training in college. How did that come about and how did it change your game on the football field?

    “I’d go there three or four times a week throughout the year, and I did it mostly in the Spring and Summer. That completely changed my game and hand-eye coordination. As a defensive lineman, you’re constantly having a hand battle with your opponent. So just getting that hand-eye coordination and knowing where you are in space and upping your awareness, it takes your game to another level. That’s really what it is, it’s a giant hand battle. If you have the advantage in that, you have a higher chance of winning the rep.”


  18. It’s not quite a “must win” game. If they lose their odds of making the Super Bowl go down dramatically, that I agree with, but they would still live to fight another day and their chances of making the Super Bowl would not be zero. Saying a West Coast wild card hasn’t made the Super Bowl before does not make it impossible. Just shows how challenging it would be.

    So not a “must win” per se, but it sure would help significantly if they do win. And given the injuries to the Seahawks, this is as good an opportunity to win up there as they have had in years. The 49ers are battle tested and really shouldn’t let this one slip.

  19. Tough news about Jullian Taylor. Givens was a beauty in the pre season, but that’s against scrubs. Hopefully he can surprise some people.
    The bigger concern about Taylor is he was always injured at Temple. It’s the reason he wasn’t on anyone’s radar coming into the draft.
    I really like him and have been supporting him from the start, but this is a concern. It wasn’t even from someone falling on him. He just engaged and his knee gave out. Not a good sign.

  20. Really? They should have gone for a tie? In game 9? That is just beyond absurd. Beyond your usual provoking writing style. It’s just steeped in stupid.

    But credit due. It got my thumbs off the couch to post.

    I digress. The rest of your article was actually pretty spot on. If they win, chances=good. If they lose chances=bad. That’s why my BP is already starting at the danger Will Robinson level here two days before game time. I am going to. Be. Amped.

  21. Imagine. Running the ball could also gotten them into field goal range, but would have guaranteed they would not lose. The Seahawks were out of time outs, so they could not stop the clock.
    If they had tied their first meeting, this game would have been meaningless for the division crown, so they could have rested more players.

  22. Seb, had we tied the Seattle game and then go on to lose on Sunday we would win the division but not get a bye. I believe that makes it a mute point. The loss to the Falcons stings but every team has a let down game. We win on Sunday and we are in the driver seat. Just go out and execute and we shall prevail. And thank God for Shanahan, who made this possible in short 3 years. We owe him all the accolades and props after all the criticism the last few year. Harbaugh inherited a good team that was out coached, Shanahan inherited a skeleton of a team and he brought us playoff football in short 3 years. Did I say playoff? No, we are thinking SB. So sure we can make comments and criticize but let’s not forget what our team has accomplished with our amazing coach. Just keeping it real!

    1. I concede that KS has done a masterful job this season, and am jumping for joy.
      However, he may be praised for the wins, but he should also accept criticism for the losses. That is part of his job description.
      That said, I will just say- GO NINERS!!!!!! Beat the Seasquawks in their home stadium, and send them on the road.

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