NFC playoff outlook: 49ers hit the wall before bye, with nine games left to play

What will happen in December if the 49ers hit rock bottom after eight games?

Look out below!

The 49ers fell from first to sixth in the conference standings after falling a half-game behind the Seattle Seahawks in the NFC West.

With both games against Seattle remaining on the schedule, it is within the 49ers’ power to win the division, and the guess here is that they will, despite a three-game losing streak heading into the bye, after adding defensive end Chase Young from Washington at the trade deadline.

However, this tidbit from coach Kyle Shanahan on Monday was more than a little concerning:

“What sticks out to me the most on tape is just how slow and tired we looked,” Shanahan said during a conference call. “When that happens, it leads to bigger holes, more mistakes, and more missed tackles.” I could see a different type of energy on tape, which was disappointing, but I also know they need this rest. That was the most obvious.”

After eight games, the 49ers hit rock bottom. It was said by their coach. There are nine games remaining after the bye. I’m not particularly gifted in mathematics, but that’s one more than eight. Then there’s the playoffs to think about, assuming the 49ers make it.

While the players rest, Shanahan and his staff should be scrutinizing their practice schedule to see if there is a way to reduce the physicality and keep players fresher. It’s a difficult balance to strike because teams are already practicing with less hitting and intensity than they used to, and multiple walkthroughs aren’t enough for crisp execution.

The 49ers have a number of players who have played a significant amount of football in their careers. The sport is demanding. Aside from catastrophic injury, their players’ ability to deal with wear and tear may be their most pressing concern, given that the second half of the season will be just as, if not more, physically demanding than the first.

That could be their downfall.

In terms of playoff seeding, the NFC is as follows heading into Week 9:

  1. Philadelphia (7-1): The Eagles aren’t exactly world beaters right now, but unlike the 49ers, they’re still delivering wins while working through their problems. They were able to overcome allowing Washington 472 yards of offense, with quarterback Sam Howell going 39 of 52 for 397 yards and four touchdowns. Jalen Hurts avoided his recent turnover problems, completing 29 of 38 passes for 319 yards and four touchdowns.

The next three weeks include games against Dallas (5-2), a bye, and a trip to Kansas City (6-2).

  1. Detroit (6-2): Against a weaker opponent, settling for three short field goals, missing a chip-shot field goal, and giving up a pick-six can be a recipe for disaster. Fortunately, that inferior opponent was the Raiders, who the Lions completely dominated. Detroit has won 14 of its last 18 games under coach Dan Campbell and appears to be on track to win the division title. In 30 years, the Lions have not hosted a playoff game.

Next three weeks: bye, Los Angeles Chargers (3-4), Chicago (2-6)

  1. Seattle (5-2): The Seahawks’ future schedule still includes both NFC West championship games against the 49ers. They’re also serious, as evidenced by the rumored trade for Giants defensive lineman Leonard Williams. One issue: quarterback Geno Smith, who made excellent decisions a year ago, has thrown five interceptions in his last three games. That can’t go on.

Next three weeks: at Baltimore (6-2), at Washington (3-5), and at the Los Angeles Rams (3-5).

  1. Atlanta (4-4): No one has more turnovers than Falcons quarterback Desmond Ridder, who has 12 after a loss to Tennessee. Ridder was sacked five times and removed for a concussion evaluation before being replaced on the bench by Taylor Heinecke. Atlanta has more bad news: standout defensive tackle Grady Jarrett is out for the season due to a torn ACL.

The next three weeks include games against Minnesota (4-4), Arizona (1-7), and a bye.

  1. Dallas (5-2): After a 32-point thrashing at Levi’s Stadium against the 49ers, the Cowboys get another chance to make a statement when they visit the Eagles. Dallas quarterback Dak Prescott has gone 46 of 61 for 576 yards, five touchdowns, and one interception in wins over the Chargers and Rams since the Santa Clara debacle.

The following three weeks: at Philadelphia (7-1), at New York Giants (2-6), and at Carolina (1-6).

  1. 49ers (5-3): A leaky defense with no pass rush was far down the list of potential problems for the 49ers in 2023. Kirk Cousins and Joe Burrow combined for 661 yards, five touchdowns, and one interception in the last two games. That works out to a combined quarterback rating of 118.7. In comparison, Joe Montana’s best season total was 112.4, and Steve Young’s was 112.8. Peyton Manning’s career high was 121.1, while Tom Brady’s was 117.2. That was reason enough to go get Young for a compensatory third-round pick, which they may just recoup if he leaves in free agency next offseason. Shanahan said he’ll talk to Steve Wilks about moving him from the coaches’ box to the field to get a better look.

The next three weeks include a bye, a trip to Jacksonville (6-2), and a game against Tampa Bay (3-4).

  1. Minnesota (4-4): Kirk Cousins’ legions of doubters were finally coming around to his ability as a decision-maker and passer. Then he tore his right Achilles’ tendon, effectively ending the Vikings’ chances of making the playoffs. They were, at best, borderline. They are now finished.

The next three weeks include games against Atlanta (4-4), New Orleans (4-4), and Denver (3-5).

  1. New Orleans (4-4): Taysom Hill’s ability as a goal-line runner has helped Derek Carr’s issues in the red zone. And in Rashid Shaheed, Carr has found a deep target he is comfortable with. It’s difficult to imagine New Orleans not winning the NFC South with Alvin Kamara hitting his stride and a solid defense.

The next three weeks include games against Chicago (2-6), Minnesota (4-4), and a bye.


Although there is still a long way to go, the first five seeds appear to be locks. It’s just a matter of how they’re arranged at the end of the regular season. Miami could use a win over the Chiefs in Germany on Sunday to demonstrate that it can beat potentially elite opponents. Patrick Mahomes required IVs to play in a 24-9 loss to Denver. It will be a big deal if the Chiefs lose to the Dolphins.

Postseason seeding as of now

  1. Kansas City (6-2), 2. Miami (6-2), 3. Jacksonville (6-2), 4. Baltimore (6-2), 5. Buffalo (5-3), 6. Pittsburgh (4-3), 7. Cleveland (4-3).

Outside looking in

  1. N.Y. Jets (4-3), 9. Cincinnati (4-3).

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