Jim Harbaugh's 49ers team can still reach the playoffs by going 4-2 or 5-1 over the final six games. (Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)
Hopes for a third straight NFC West championship are now dead and buried for the 49ers.
The streaking 10-1 Seahawks and the up-and-down Niners – who at 6-4 now have only two more wins than their across-the-bay cousins in Oakland – have made that a certainty.
But even though the 49ers have now lost a second straight game and still not proven they can beat an elite team this season, it doesn’t mean San Francisco’s season is over. Far from it.
As the 49ers prepare for their final six games, beginning with a matchup against the 3-7 Washington Redskins on “Monday Night Football” Nov. 25, the schedule is in the 49ers’ favor. The 49ers are 4-0 this season against teams with losing records and 2-4 vs. winning teams. If that form holds, the 49ers would go 4-2 to give them a 10-6 record. Up next, in order, are the Redskins (3-7), Rams (4-6), Seahawks (10-1), Bucs (2-8), Falcons (2-8) and Cardinals (6-4).
The key game might be the final regular-season game of the season, on Dec. 29, when the Niners visit the Arizona Cardinals. A victory in Arizona, and an 11-5 mark, might be the key to get into the playoffs as one of the NFC’s two wild-card teams.
But, it will be a tight race. Among wild-card contenders, the 49ers, Cardinals, Bears and Lions all are 6-4, and the Panthers are 6-3 going into Monday night’s game against the Patriots.
Though the 49ers’ offense has been disappointing – it again stalled in the second half of the loss at New Orleans Sunday – its defense, special teams and running game have usually been enough to overwhelm weaker teams. As Bill Williamson of ESPN.com wrote after the loss to the Saints Sunday, “In my opinion, this is still a playoff team. Losses to the Panthers and Saints didn’t change my mind. The 49ers look worthy of the postseason.”
Yet the Niners’ passing offense is going to have to come alive over the final six games of the schedule if this team has any hope of advancing in the postseason, should it earn a berth. As a wild-card team, the 49ers would have to win three straight road games to get back to the Super Bowl, a seemingly impossible task right now – especially considering the fact Seattle is almost invincible at home.
But, the 49ers know they still have hope. Sunday’s loss to the Saints was crushing, but they still know they can make something of this season.
“At the end of the day, it’s just one loss,” tight end Vernon Davis told Williamson. “We’ve got six weeks to play for. We know the ultimate goal is to win as many games as you can and get into the playoffs.”