49ers have no room for error in push for top playoff position

San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan watches during the second half of an NFL football game against the Atlanta Falcons in Santa Clara, Calif., Sunday, Dec. 15, 2019. (AP Photo/Josie Lepe)

SANTA CLARA — They need a break.

The 49ers are freaking exhausted. They started the season 8-0, but since then they’re 3-3 and they just lost a home game to an Atlanta Falcons team that won’t make the playoffs.

The 49ers will make the postseason — they clinched that already. But they’re limping toward the playoffs, not walking or running. And if they don’t earn a first-round bye, they might crash and burn.

“We’re playing a good team every week,” rookie Pro Bowler Nick Bosa said in the locker room. “In college, you’re playing a good team maybe three times a year. In this league, you have to prepare the same every week. It sounds like a broken record. You really have to take your focus to a new level.”

Bosa sounds mentally and physically drained. He never played more than 536 snaps in season at Ohio State, but has played 665 snaps for the 49ers already. The Niners need a week off. And they’ll get one if they win their final two regular-season games.

“Everything is still right in front of us,” Bosa said. “What we’ve done early in the year has helped us get to this point.”

Here are five key factors that will determine whether they earn a bye:

This article has 96 Comments

  1. Worse case scenario and my biggest fear? After beating a desperate Rams team that throws everything at them, the Niners limp into Seattle and give it everything they’ve got, completely draining them and adding a few more injuries to the ever-growing list (as always seems to happen against Seattle), only to lose in some heartbreaking fashion (as also always seems to happen against Seattle).

    In this scenario, the Niners end up with a depleted, exhausted roster, without a bye week to recover, and have to go on the road the rest of whatever remains of their playoffs.

    As ridiculous as it sounds, losing to the Rams wouldn’t necessarily be all bad. It would force the Niners to essentially play the Seattle game as their bye week and rest their starters since they could only be assured the 5th seed at that point anyway.

    Do I want this to happen? Hell no. Thump LA and Seattle! Just make sure you do it. The alternative would be bad. Really bad.

    1. Yeah. If the team loses to the Rams, then resting their starters against Seattle makes some sense – even though the squawks are the team I hate the most. Besides as the Nick Mullens fans will tell you, he beat the Chickens last year.

      1. If the niners lose to the Rams and beat the Hawks, they will finish second with a bye. So not sure why you guys are rushing to judgement. Let the season play out.

          1. No buddy … They will finish second in the conference because of strength of victory (SOV) if GB loses one more game. Maybe you should get informed before you make definite statements.

            1. Okay guy, wow. Just don’t understand why people get themselves so worked up and try to belittle a fellow Niner fan on a Niner blog. We’re all fans rooting for the same team, remember?! Please don’t go shoot up a post office if things don’t go your way, okay?

              Currently, the Niners, Saints, Packers, and Seahawks all sit at 11-3. If the Niners lose to the Rams and everyone else from that list wins this week (which isn’t a given of course but is more than likely), the Niners automatically fall to the 5th seed. With me so far?

              Then, next weekend, when the Niners play the Seahawks, if it unfolds as I mentioned above, the Niners would be 11-4 and the Seahawks 12-3. Even IF the Niners were to win that game, and both teams finish at 12-4, depending on how both team’s previous opponents finish out the season, it’s possible Seattle could end up as NFC West champs, leaving the Niners with the 5th seed.

              However, even if the Niners win the division title, if the Saints and Packers win their last games (which is very likely given they’re playing against the Panthers and Lions, respectively), they would both finish with better records (13-3 vs the Niner’s 12-4). In which case the Niners would lose the all important bye week and get to host a game at a stadium that really does nothing for them.

              Having a bye is what is the most important thing for this team at this point. Should they slip up against the Rams, I’m merely pointing out that the path of least resistance may be to rest their starters against Seattle instead of fighting what could be an all-too-common bloodbath against a hated rival only to come out of it with more injuries and no bye week to show for it anyway.

              Have a nice day!

          2. Nope, they would be tied with Seattle, 12-4, but the tie breaker, strength of victory, comes into play. Niners beat the Saints, so Niners will win that one.

            1. “Seattle currently leads in the strength of victory category with the teams they’ve beaten having won 72 games. Teams the 49ers have beaten have won 68 games.”
              —Matt Maiocco

              1. If the niners beat the seahawks then it will tilt to the niners. I am just trying to let you know the season and the bye still isn’t over no matter what happens against the Rams. So no need to give up on the bye yet. The one game that will make us a 5 or 6 seed is losing to the seahwaks no matter what the outcome tomorrow. The Vikings play the Packers, and the niners hold the head to head. Yes we are all niner fans and don’t want you to give up on your team yet 😉

              2. Niners need to concentrate on defeating the Rams, because the division record factors in the seeding. Worry about Seattle next week.

              3. after we beat Seattle, we will have SOV in our favor. If Seattle beat the Cards, they will get 4 more, while we will get 12/13 more after we beat the Seahwaks.

              4. Amici: Yes it is not clear, but I think the point we are making is that should the team lose to the Rams and a subsequent win at Seattle not have the potential to result in a bye, then it might be prudent to rest the starters for the Seattle game and enter the playoffs as healthy as possible. Cheers.

  2. Yeah, the 49ers are mentally and physically exhausted. Coaches and players are running on fumes. Totally unfair the 49ers have to play 16 games and everyone else only plays 12 games. All the 49ers upcoming opponents are totally healthy and rested. Jeez, give me a break. The 49ers are in the same boat as every other team in the NFL. I’m tired of hearing how tired the 49ers are when every other team has played the exact same number of games. The 49ers played the Falcons while missing Richard Sherman, Jacquiski Tartt, Dee Ford, K’Wuan Williams, and after just losing DJ Jones. The issue facing the 49ers is injuries. Matt Ryan is a top 5 QB this year. He has more yards passing than Russell Wilson, Deshaun Watson, Aaron Rodgers, and Tom Brady. The 49ers have 3 losses all coming at the very end of games. Let’s stop the doom and gloom. The 49ers control their own destiny which is all you can ask for at this time of the season. The 49ers may not end up with the #1 seed. I’d really love to see them get that spot but it’s not the end of the world if they don’t. More important to get a few key contributors back for the playoffs. I’m enjoying TF out of this season and no amount of negativity is going to ruin that for me. Geaux Niners (in my best Coach O voice)..

      1. Grant: I read a blurb that Welker and Sanders got into an argument after the game. Probably just frustration, but do you have any insight?

      2. Are you channeling your inner Aristotle or do you not realize if the 49ers win out they get the #1 seed. They need no help from any other team in order to get the #1 seed. In other words, the 49ers control their own destiny.

      3. Destiny, by definition, is a predetermined course of events. The 49ers path to Super Bowl LIV is yet to be determined, but they do control their path to the number 1 seed in the NFC, and the easiest path to Miami’s Hard Rock Stadium, in pursuit of the 49ers 6th Lombardi Trophy!

        As you rightly stated, Grant, a lackluster game plan, and a poor all-around effort against the Falcons, has eliminated any room for error, in pursuit of home field advantage throughout the playoffs. The 49ers need to turn up the intensity, and treat these next 2 games as if the season depends on winning them. This team desperately needs that first round bye, IMO, and that goal starts with a win against the Rams on Saturday. It’s been a fantastic season, and as a life long Forty Niner Faithful, I bleed scarlet & gold! This has been one of the most exhilarating seasons in memory, and it’s been a very fun ride.

        But now it’s go-time!

        Time to show the world that the 2019 49ers truly are the team to beat in the NFC, and a legitimate Super Bowl contender! GO NINERS!

        1. The Niners definitely control their own fate, but the same be said for every team.

          The NFL postseason formula is simple: Win, and you live on to play another game – Lose, and it’s a wrap, your season has come to an abrupt end.

    1. Houston I agree with most of what you’re saying.
      What I differ on is the number of starting injuries and the early bye week.
      That’s a big difference than teams with a bye week mid to late season

  3. What an absolute waste of an extremely high draft pick Thomas is . I guarantee they have an undrafted guy (Givens ) who would do way damage right now … Tarrt is made of glass no suprise he’s out . Don’t expect any from Ford here in out . KS is gonna have to scheme his ass off to get to at least 27-30 cause that’s what it’s gonna take to win

  4. Ronald Blair and Dee Ford are huge loses that no one is talking about. Our pass rush is not the same without them.

    Double Buckner and Chip Bosa has been an effective plan. Part of the reason for the mental exhaustion is because they have to do it all on their own at this point.

  5. These guys make real good $ to play 16 games , plus. They have all winter , spring , half of summer to rest . They can’t suck it up and ball out the rest of the year for what’s on the line , then they can go home earlier and rest

  6. So I have a question on the IR rules. Someone wrote that Kwon Alexander can come back in the playoffs if healthy even though he is currently on IR. Does that mean Jerick McKinnon, Trent Taylor, and Jalen Hurd can come back for the playoffs also if they are healthy? Or are they not eligible because they went on IR before the season? I firmly believe if Kwon Alexander were healthy, the 49ers would have beaten the Ravens. Kwon at LB would have been so much better than Al Shaair. Jackson doesn’t run for that many yards and Kwon would have stuck that flag straight up Mark Andrews A$$.

    1. I heard you can bring back 2 players from the IR.

      Now I thought that applied to the season and once the playoffs begin you can bring back more, but the way its been worded its two players only.

      As they have brought back Street, they have one more to bring and Kwon would make the most sense, but I would love to get Hurd out there for short yardage.

    2. So, teams are now allowed to bring up to 2 players back from IR during the season, provided they were a) part of the original 53 man roster, and b) sit out at least 8 weeks after being placed on IR.

      McKinnon was placed on IR prior to final roster cuts, and because of that, while he didn’t count against the 53 man roster, he is also ineligible to return during the season.

      Just a couple years back, the league required teams to designate a players eligibility to return at the time when they were placed on IR, but that is no longer the case.

      To summarize: Any 2 players who were a part of a team’s original 53 man roster, can be placed on Injured Reserve, and are eligible to be brought back during the season, provided they sit out for a minimum of 8 weeks after being placed on the list. Any player placed on IR prior to final roster cuts is ineligible to return during the season.

    3. From Maiocco, “Players on injured reserve are eligible to come back during the postseason, so there is no rule that prevents Alexander’s return after the conclusion of the regular season.”

    4. BTW Houston, both Taylor and Hurd are indeed eligible to return this season. However, with only one more player eligible to return, I think Hurd’s versatility would make him the more valuable addition to the Niners’ playoff roster, even though Taylor is the more experienced player of the two. It would be a tough call to choose between those two players, but unfortunately it sounds as though neither player is likely to return this season, leaving Alexander as perhaps the only real option. That said, I have a hard time believing Kwon would be healthy enough to make much of an impact if he does return. In fact, he might actually be more of a liability than an asset, considering the only chance he has at playing would be to wear what is a very restrictive shoulder/arm harness on his bad side.

  7. Do the Niners get any credit for leaving their roster need at WR to this years draft when it might be the best WR class in the last 10 years?
    (According to Tom Mcshay)

    1. Prime is that what they did? They used a 2nd Debo and a 3rd Jaylen on WR this draft after using #2 on Pettis last year and trading a future 2 for Sanders. Unless they use their 1st (hopefully the 32 overall) on a WR, by the time they get to the 4th there might be only scraps left

        1. Good call Razor!

          I have the Horned frogs’ WR listed as a legitimate target for ShanaLynch. The consensus 4-Star recruit is a baller, and plays bigger than his 5’11” frame would suggest. He’s an explosive route runner with good hands, and the ability to run a full route tree. The versatile WR has enough strength and acceleration to get off of the LOS, and upfield quickly. Perhaps most importantly, JALEN REAGOR plays through contact, which is something Kyle will likely put a premium on after the disappointing development of 2018 second-round pick – Dante Pettis.

          The 49ers could be in the hunt for a true, potential #1 WR in the offseason, even if they end up re-signing the aging veteran Emmanuel Sanders. Goodwin is almost certainly out, while Taylor’s injury history is very concerning. I’m also not sure if Pettis has a future on this football team! Reagor is currently listed at #36 on my way-to-early draft big board, and I suspect the pre-draft consensus will project him as a late first, early second round pick, which puts him right in the range the 49ers will be picking.

            1. Connor Williams? Are you referring to me, Seb?

              Anyways, the draft is way to far off to worry about right now. It’s GO-TIME for the 2019 49ERS!

              1. No, you were the Connor Cook maven.
                Yes, I sure am glad that we are not debating mocks right now, like we did last season.
                I just do not think the Niners biggest need is at WR. O line and Safety should be their focus in next season’s draft.
                Like I said before the Falcons game, this will not be a cakewalk. Rams will really want to play spoiler.

        2. I also remember you calling it a lock for the Niners to select Connor Williams from Texas, as their first round pick.
          He went 50th, with injury issues.
          The Niners should re-sign Sanders, and spend some money on a battle hardened, and battle tested FA WR. I think 50% of the rookie WRs do not do well or become injured.
          The Niners should trade back, and select an O lineman and safety with their first 2 picks.

          1. Battle hardened and battle tested? How about vulcanized…? Just apply heat and sulfur…less violence that way.

        3. Razor:
          8/17/19: TCU WR Jalen Reagor is a speed demon who is a true home run hitter with mismatch speed. The ultra-fast Reagor can take the top off of a defense and is a threat to score anytime he touches the ball.
          * Reagor is a true speed demon who is similar to DeSean Jackson, Marquise ‘Hollywood’ Brown or Will Fuller. Team sources say that Reago HAS NO CLUE HOW TO RUN A ROUTE AND WILL NEED TO BE COACHED UP ON THAT…… Sounds like a late day two pick?

          * A small school sleeper WR to keep your eye on:
          Antonio Gandy-Golden, WR, Liberty
          Height: 6-4. Weight: 220.
          Projected 40 Time: 4.54.
          * 11/30/19: Gandy-Golden has 70 receptions for 1,304 yards and nine touchdowns in 2019. Gandy-Golden is a size mismatch weapon for the NFL. If he runs well at the Senior Bowl and combine, he could rise.
          * 8/17/19: Team sources mentioned Gandy-Golden as a player who jumped out at them over the past few years. Gandy-Golden is a very impressive natural hands catcher with excellent size and is dangerous after the catch. Defensive backs really struggle with the size mismatch, and Gandy-Golden some physicality to him. He is calm with defenders closing in on him and does a superb job of playing the ball. The big question with Gandy-Golden is if he has enough speed for the NFL. That is tough to determine given his level of competition, so it may not be answered until all-star games or the NFL Scouting Combine.

    2. SF 2020 Rd #1 Draft pick: WR Justin Jefferson LSU: 6′ 3″ X 250, 40 time = 4.5s.
      2019; 75 catches for 1,037 yards and 12 touchdowns. 2018; 54 receptions for 875 yards and six scores.
      Jefferson has length to go with some quickness and athleticism. He has a ton of upside with the speed to make plays downfield and mismatch length to make receptions over defensive backs. He has been a steady big-play producer for QB Joe Burrow and LSU this season.

    1. Agreed Jack, although I think Mostert should get touches ahead of Breida, leaving Wilson as the short yardage and #3 option, while Coleman picks up the scraps. I know Kyle has a soft spot for Coleman, but he’s been the Niners least effective runner over the last several weeks, and it seems like he’s lost some the explosiveness we saw from him earlier in the season, so I think it’s high time Kyle limits his touches with the season hanging in the balance.

        1. At this time of year with all the injuries everyone is dealing with, Shanny is doing it the right way. See who comes out early with the explosiveness and speed and ride that guy in the game. Then supplement it with the others.
          That’s why you have depth.

  8. I disagree with Grant. Thomas was not put in his best position to succeed.
    Instead of ragging on him, they should show support and allow him to play to his strengths.

  9. From ESPN via Athletic’s David Lombardi:
    “McGlinchey surged to the top of ESPN’s pass-rush win rate rankings for NFL offensive linemen (this is an inverse of the defensive metric above, measuring the rate at which linemen hold their blocks for more than 2.5 seconds):
    Pass-rush win rate, NFL offensive tackles
    McGlinchey, 49ers: 96%
    David Bakhtiari, Packers: 95%
    Kelvin Beachum, Jets: 95%
    Ronnie Stanley, Ravens: 94%
    Andrew Whitworth, Rams: 94%”

    Niners don’t seem to be missing Trent Brown’s pass pro at RT. The problem is in the interior where “per PFF, Tomlinson and Person rank No. 25 and No. 47, respectively, out of 62 qualifying guards in pass-blocking efficiency.”

  10. This little diddy goes out to the Trent Brown Lonesome Crow buffet club members out there:

    Pass-rush win rate, NFL offensive tackles:

    #1 McGlinchey, 49ers: 96%
    #2 David Bakhtiari, Packers: 95%
    #3 Kelvin Beachum, Jets: 95%
    #4 Ronnie Stanley, Ravens: 94%
    #5 Andrew Whitworth, Rams: 94%

      1. Come on Jack, you can’t sum up someone’s performance with one stat…..that’s like saying CB(A) is better than CB(B) since he has 4 int vs 1 int. Who know how many times Brown has been beaten, but it wasn’t a sack due to Brady getting the ball out. We also have seen Jimmy hold on to the ball when nothing is there and take the sack.

          1. OK, Garoppolo stands strong in the pocket, always looking for his receivers to break open, while Carr is the opposite. Just last week he literally threw the ball away on 4th & goal in order to avoid getting hit, even though replays showed he clearly had plenty more time to allow his receivers to uncover.

            That play summed up Carr in a nutshell. He’s soft, and will, more often than not, simply give up on a play at the slightest hint of pressure while Garoppolo will, if anything, actually hold onto the football a split second too long, even when he senses the pocket beginning to break down, in hopes that one of his receiever will eventually break up.

            I’d rather Jimmy threw the ball away a little more often, but I’d rather have a QB who’s mentally tough enough to stand strong in the face of pressure, than a QB like Carr, who seems afraid to take a hit, leading him to get rid of the football at the slightest hint of pressure, even on 4th & goal from the 5 fricken yard line!

            1. But what else would one expect from Carr, who was caught on camera literally crying like a baby, after being tackled to the ground behind the LOS?

              His OT’s may like the fact that it makes them look good, but I promise this …. Jon Gruden isn’t the only Raider who quitely questions Carr’s toughness. There are a lot of players in the Raiders locker room, who have seen Derek give up on plays far too quickly, because he does it at least once or twice a game. Carr is no Garoppolo, and it goes way beyond the embarrassing meme’s of that now infamous crybaby photograph that quickly went viral.

  11. Championship teams need to be lucky, as well as good.
    Lucky to avoid the injury bug. Lucky to have the ball bounce their way. Lucky to have the refs not throw flags that decides the outcome of the game against them. Lucky to have the other team make those unforced errors.
    Luck is when preparation meets opportunity. The Niners need to be thoroughly prepared.
    Championship teams perform like champions, but also act like Champions, and think like champions.

  12. The Rams gave up 280 yards on the ground to the Cowboys. KS should utilize Breida and Mostert on those OZ runs, and Wilson between the tackles. Attack Mathews on the edge.
    KS should abandon the 11 personnel, and go with the 12 personnel, utilizing Dwelley as a receiver at times. Run several different plays out of the same set. KS better wake up, and have his A game going. No more vanilla, more clever innovation.
    Saleh needs to dial up some exotic blitzes, so the Rams do not know where the pressure is coming from. With more pressure, Goff will make more mistakes.
    This will still be a stern test. The Rams almost always plays the Niners tough, they are formidable rivals, who were in the SB last season. They have their backs against the wall, so they are desperate for a win. They may almost be eliminated, but they will want to play spoiler.

    Should the 9ers cut Dee Ford and save his $13.65 million base salary in 2020?
    * Ford’s $13.65 million base salary in 2020 becomes fully guaranteed if he is with the 49ers after April 1st. If Ford is cut B-4 April 1st 2020, the 9ers suffer $6.4 million in dead money for 2020. That dead money is what remains of his $8 million roster bonus. There’s nothing else the 49ers would owe.

    1. I certainly don’t believe they should.
      What is the upside of cutting him next year? Saved Money? They would need to find a replacement for him as a pass rusher and they are not cheap and yes the niners pass rush is much better with him on the field.
      The Issue is further complicated by their cap situation and draft status… they will need to focus on trying to retain Defo, Armstead, Kittle and Sanders.

      In addition to this, in the draft they will only have a late first and then they will need to wait until the 5th round. This would lead me to believe that they likely trade back… which also means they are less likely to find an impact pass rusher to replace Ford.

      Given all these factors… I would choose to Gamble on Ford and his health for one more season.

      1. Shoup
        Agreed, the 9ers are much better with Ford on the field….That’s also the problem! For the number of games he’s played / missed, is he worth $13.65 Mil? Could that money be better spent on signing Defo, Armstead, Kittle and Sanders?

        * “I would choose to Gamble on Ford and his health for one more season.” * The “gamble” is, signing Ford and losing players the 9ers need to retain….But as they say…That’s why Lynch makes the big $$ bucks, to make those decisions!

  14. Dan Brown in The Athletic:
    “I heard a member of the ‘81 49ers this week compare last week’s loss to the Falcons to a late-season lapse the ‘81 team suffered at home against the crummy Browns. In that instance, the 49ers were 8-2 and the Browns were 4-6, but the 49ers let their guard down — and that was the last time. Awakened by that slap in the face, they never lost again. “

    1. I was hoping that slap in the face came against the Seahawks in week 10. The Seahawks are the hurdle they must get over. It’s time for them to peel that monkey off their back ala Steve Young’s super bowl victory celebration.

  15. In the upcoming game. The niners offense will need to put up a lot of points as I expect the Rams to score 28 or more points.
    I know it may be unpopular, but I think without Ford, Jared Goff will have a fair amount of time to throw the ball. And, While Goff is not a very good qb, he is very accurate when given time and the niners pass rush is not the same without Blair and Ford to help Bosa on the edge.

  16. Saturday evening of a pre-holiday weekend is such a bizarre time for a football game. It looks like I will miss a big chunk of the game. I’ll bet Jed York had something to do with this.

    1. C’mon man! It’s a flex game decided by League and networks based on marketability to the tv audience. Jed may be guilty of a lot of things, but this game’s timing and Original Sin are not among them. You’re better than that.

  17. Goff hurt his thumb, but the Niners should not count on that affecting his accuracy, like it looked like in the Cowboy game. He has had a week to heal, and they scored 2 TDs in the 4th quarter.
    The Rams and Cowboys both used the QB roll out to the receiver underneath. Vintage KS play.
    The Rams look vulnerable to the cutback runs, so I hope the Niners do misdirections, counters and reverses.
    JG should not pay attention to how the Rams’ offense is doing, and just concentrate on scoring as many TDs as possible.

  18. Middlekauff has that tired, won’t play hurt, never make it through a whole season, Bosa as having one of the best rookie defensive end seasons of any player he’s ever seen….

    1. I’d agree. Bosa’s been a revelation to many, including Shanalynch. Aside from physically making it thru the season, he’s astoundingly mature and has the right pro attitude from day one. A true cornerstone piece.

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