The San Francisco 49ers can lock up their third consecutive playoff berth on Sunday and the scenarios by which it could happen aren’t nearly as far-fetched as those that still have the 4-9 Oakland Raiders mathematically alive for a spot in the AFC.
The 49ers (9-4) clinch Sunday if:
- The 49ers win at Tampa Bay.
- AND the Cardinals lose at Tennessee.
- AND Dallas loses to or ties with the Packers.
- The 49ers win at Tampa Bay (look familiar so far?)
- AND the Cardinals lose at Tennessee (still looking familiar).
- AND the Eagles lose or tie at Minnesota (ah, so that’s different).
The 49ers currently hold the No. 6 position in the NFC, with the same record as No. 5 Carolina (9-4). But the Panthers hold the tiebreaker by virtue of their win at Candlestick Park on Nov. 10.
The division leaders at the moment (in order of playoff position) are Seattle (11-2) in the NFC West, New Orleans (10-3) in the NFC South, Philadelphia (8-5) in the NFC East and Detroit (7-6) in the NFC North.
The Seahawks are the only team in the conference that has clinched a playoff spot.
The Cardinals, meanwhile, are up against it, trailing the 49ers by a game at 8-5, but having already lost t San Francisco once with a meeting scheduled for Glendale, Ariz., on the final Sunday of the season (Dec. 29).
Arizona is only 1-3 in the NFC West while the 49ers are 4-1, so the Cardinals only hope of passing San Francisco is to run the table—including a win in Week 17—while San Francisco loses to either the Buccaneers or Atlanta Falcons in between.
The Cardinals do have the head-to-head edge over Carolina, but can only get to that tiebreaker if they aren’t eliminated in a tie with the 49ers first. Tiebreakers are first applied in order to determine divisional finish before they are used to determine ties within the conference.