It keeps popping up. You’re watching the 49ers’ game on TV, and at some point the playoff possibilities are flashed on the screen. It lists the sure-fire contenders and a short list of teams “on the bubble” to make the playoffs.
And listed, week after week, are the hard-luck, much injured, losers-of-three-in-a-row 49ers. Do they really have a chance to make the playoffs?
And probably no.
It is true that there is a mathematical chance that the team could make the post season. There’s a whole complicated set of dominos that have to fall in exactly the right order — even then it is a long shot. But here’s the hoping-for-a-miracle pitch.
First, consider the NFC East. Holy crap, what a dumpster fire. Not only do they not have a team with a winning record, they don’t even have one at .500. None of the four teams in the East have more than three wins. If this was soccer, they’d all be relegated.
Why do we care? Because it removes four teams from the 16-team NFC. Now we’re down to 12. And four of those teams — Carolina, Atlanta, Detroit and Minnesota — have the same 4-6 record as the 49ers or worse.
The Niners are only two games back of the Rams and the Cardinals in the West Division. With six games to go, and a head to head coming up with both L.A. and Arizona, you could make up ground quickly in the West.
Also, the NFL is still considering putting eight teams into the playoffs, instead of the current seven. The league would go to eight if the coronavirus forces the cancelation of so many games that a complete season cannot be played. So if that happens, it would be an additional chance for the 49ers to make the post season.
In addition, following the bye week, there is a good chance of getting several injured players back on the field. They could include Richard Sherman, Raheem Mostert, Tevin Coleman, Deebo Samuel and center Ben Garland. There’s even a chance that Jimmy Garoppolo could return for some of the final games.
For all those reasons, and the fact that the team has appeared to stay relatively cohesive during the adversity, you could make a case that, with some lucky breaks, the 49ers have a possible passage to the post season.
And nope. Still not seeing it.
For starters, the 49ers have already lost to the Cardinals in the first game of the season. So Arizona has the tie-breaker right off the bat, pending the outcome of their second game of the season on Dec. 27.
San Francisco did beat the Rams in their first game, so that makes this week’s game in Los Angeles a must-win. Unfortunately, we all agreed that last week’s game with the Saints was a must-win, and they didn’t. The have to win these games or none of the scenario makes sense.
Realistically, they have to run the table in the six remaining games. That would make them 10-6, which is a reasonable record to make the tail end of the playoffs. The problem is, the schedule doesn’t look promising.
The Rams are 6-3 (pending tonight’s game in Tampa), the next opponent, Buffalo is 7-3. Washington and Dallas are 3-7 cupcakes, but remember, the Niners can’t lose a game. And then they finish up with 6-4 Arizona and 7-3 Seattle.
That’s a lot of uphill work. And frankly, the 49ers aren’t trending well right now.
As pointed out last week, the three consecutive losses have come with a pattern. Teams are coming after the 49ers passers and the offensive line, particularly the revolving door at center, have been unable to protect the quarterbacks. Pro Football Reference has 49ers quarterbacks absorbing 49 hits so far this year, the most in the NFL.
That’s not conducive to efficient passing, and it shows with 11 interceptions between Garoppolo and Nick Mullens. It may also help explain why the 49ers’ quarterbacks have tended to start well and then taper off later in games. All those hits take a toll.
Getting Garland back would be a big help at center. Beat reporters remind us that the team has used six different centers in ten games. Complications have ensued. We’ve seen too many times when the O-line has failed to even lay a hand on a blitzer.
It is something that has to be fixed. If nothing else, you’d have to think Kyle Shanahan is hoping to get a non-gimpy Garoppolo back at the end of the season. He’s surely seen enough of Mullens and C.J. Beathard. Those last games could be Jimmy G’s audition for the next two years of his contract.
But he can’t do it if the pass rushers arrive at the same time as the ball. The team needs to clean up the pass ‘pro and see what Jimmy can do.
It probably won’t be for the playoffs, but at least they can say they are looking to build on something for next season. Realistically, I think that’s their best plan.