The 49ers no doubt will be watching TV Monday night and rooting for the Atlanta Falcons.
Should the Falcons beat the host New Orleans Saints, the Niners will clinch the No. 2 seed and a first-round bye in the NFC playoffs. If the Saints win, the 12-3 49ers will need to beat the Rams in St. Louis this Sunday to clinch the conference’s second seed (behind the top-seeded Packers).
How important is it to get a first-round bye?
According to Brian Burke of Advanced NFL Stats, it’s extremely important. In fact, Burke says getting a first-round bye “practically doubles a team’s chance of making it to the Super Bowl.”
Wrote Burke: “The No. 1 seed has about six times the chance of a wild-card team to make it to the Super Bowl. The No. 2 seed has nearly five times the chance. These are enormous differences, and they’re due to seeding effect alone. Right now, the 49ers and Saints are jockeying for the No. 2 seed in the NFC. The loser of that battle will fall from a 29 percent shot to an 11 percent shot at making the Super Bowl.”
The Packers and the Saints have been the sexy teams in the NFC this year, the teams with the high-powered offenses and big-name, big-stat quarterbacks who light up scoreboards every weekend.
But the Niners, with their dynamic defense and efficient, low-turnover offense, may be a tough opponent in the postseason.
And, despite the fact quarterback Alex Smith looks and performs nothing like Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers or New Orleans’ Drew Brees, Smith has come through time and again when he’s been needed.
Against the Seahawks Saturday, it was Smith’s 41-yard, fourth-quarter completion to Michael Crabtree that set up the game-winning field goal.
And, notes Matt Maiocco of Comcast Sportsnet, Smith now had led five come-from-behind victories this season, including four on the road. Smith’s five fourth-quarter comebacks matches the franchise record for a quarterback set by Hall of Famer Joe Montana in 1989.
Though Smith completed just 5-of-16 first-half passes – though several were dropped by his receivers – he was 9-of-10 in the second half in Seattle Saturday, and once again didn’t throw an interception. He’s been picked off just five times all season and has thrown 129 consecutive passes without a pick, reports Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle.
Overall, the 49ers lead the NFL with a plus-26 turnover differential.
Smith, plus turnovers and a solid defense may not be as exciting a formula as watching the Packers and Saints sprint up and down the field each week, but it looks likely to earn San Francisco the No. 2 seed.
And the Niners will be happy to have it.