Even after their loss to the Baltimore Ravens on Thanksgiving night, the 49ers appear destined to be the NFC’s No. 2 playoff seed.
As Kevin Lynch of the San Francisco Chronicle noted in his blog Saturday, San Francisco at 9-2 has a lead on the team with the next best record, the Saints (7-3), and has a relatively softer schedule down the stretch than New Orleans, beginning with the 2-8 Rams this Sunday at Candlestick Park.
The Saints and Giants – another team vying for the second seed at 6-4 – play this week’s Monday night game.
The 49ers could clinch the NFC West championship and their first playoff berth since 2002 with a win Sunday over the Rams, a game in which running back Frank Gore also could become the team’s all-time leading rusher. Gore needs just 22 yards to pass Joe Perry into first place.
Though San Francisco’s climb to near the top of the NFC under first-year coach Jim Harbaugh has been one of the great stories in the NFL this season, not many observers are giving them much of a chance to get past the 11-0 Packers in the playoffs.
San Francisco, even if it secures the No. 2 seed and a first-round bye, is considered by some to be just a nice Cinderella story for the regular season – not a team that can beat the Pack and go to the Super Bowl.
As CBS sports columnist Josh Katzowitz noted, “There doesn’t seem to be anybody in the NFC who has the ability to keep the Packers out of the Super Bowl.”
After watching the Ravens beat San Francisco Thursday, Katzowitz wrote: “You can count the 49ers out of the NFC title race.”
Though he calls the Niners a “great story” and the team’s turnaround “amazing,” he wrote that “as a challenger to the Packers, San Francisco still has big problems.”
“The 49ers offensive line was porous, allowing nine sacks, and their offense wasn’t in the least bit dynamic,” he wrote Thursday night. “And they’ve still got (Alex) Smith leading the team. Sure, he’s been solid this year, but he also threw a bad interception in the end zone at the end of the first half that killed a promising drive, and then got caught for intentionally grounding the ball with 1:28 left to go. …
“If you were looking for something special out of the San Francisco squad, it was certainly hard to spot.”
Katzowitz didn’t just pick on the Niners, however. He also pointed out the flaws in the Saints, the Bears, the Cowboys and the Giants.
Of course, Niners players and coaches themselves said the loss to the Ravens unveiled some flaws the team needs to work on to get even better.
Even though they’ve won nine of 11 games, the 49ers don’t sound complacent.
“This is a point where we need to check ourselves,” wide receiver Ted Ginn Jr. told Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle. “We need to take these next couple of games, build on them and fight like a dog.”