Analytics Reveals Where the 49ers Now Stand in NFC Wildcard Race

George Kittle

Getty George Kittle takes off with the football during the 49ers' 30-23 road loss to the Seahawks on Sunday, December 5.

There’s a traffic jam in the road to the last wildcard spot in the NFC and the San Francisco 49ers are inside the congestion.

Seven teams with seven losses or six — all of those teams are still in pursuit of the seventh and final wildcard spot in the conference with five games left.

Just two weeks ago, the 49ers elevated to the seventh spot by virtue of the Buffalo Bills smacking the New Orleans Saints on Thanksgiving night — rattling the NFC wildcard race in the process.

But, the 49ers fell flat in a penalty/turnover plagued game on Sunday, December 5 to the Seattle Seahawks.

Did that seven-point loss damage the 49ers’ postseason hopes? Or are their playoff chances about to clear and open up for them to drive past the other six in the mix?

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One ESPN analyst and insider on Tuesday, December 7, revealed where the 49ers’ Football Power Index (FPI) and playoff percentage now stands among the likes of them, the Saints, the Atlanta Falcons, Carolina Panthers, Minnesota Vikings, Philadelphia Eagles and the Washington Football Team.


Where the 49ers Currently Rank

Good news 49ers faithful: S.F. still has a high chance of making the playoffs.

How high? Per ESPN’s Bill Barnwell, the 49ers have the highest chance at securing playoff seed No. 7.

“The 49ers are the No. 1 team by a comfortable margin. Even after losing 30-23 to the Seahawks on Sunday, FPI thinks the 49ers are well ahead of the pack on their way to a wild-card berth. The Upshot’s model agrees, pegging the 49ers at 64%,” was what Barnwell wrote.

What’s the reasoning why ESPN’s FPI and Barnwell are higher on the ‘Niners than the other six?


Remaining Schedule a Reason

Barnwell took a closer glance at who the 49ers face the rest of the way. What he discovered…

“FPI thinks they have a relatively soft schedule for the run-in,” Barnwell said. “From here on out, the Niners face the league’s eighth-easiest schedule. Three of their final five games are on the road, but they have home games against the Falcons and Texans, who rank 31st and 32nd in DVOA (Defense Adjusted Value Over Average).”

Will this mean that each week, the Las Vegas odds will swing in favor of the 49ers?

“They will be comfortably favored in both those games (versus Atlanta and Houston),” Barnwell said. “And if they can win both, The Upshot projects that they will have an 82% chance of making it to the playoffs.”

How many wins will S.F. need to collect for it to hit the high probability?

“Winning one of their three remaining road games would get them to nine wins and all but lock up a playoff berth,” Barnwell wrote.

But speaking of road games, a big one looms.


The Biggest Game Remaining

Barnwell calls the upcoming road trip to Cincinnati versus the Bengals as the biggest left on the 49ers’ schedule.

Like the ‘Niners, Cincy is vying for its own playoff berth in the AFC. The Bengals are one of four teams in the conference with seven victories. The Bengals may have fallen flat against the Los Angeles Chargers (one of the AFC teams with seven wins) on Sunday, but received a huge boost from the New England Patriots on Monday as they handed the Bills loss No. 5.

It’s a tough road for the ‘Niners, especially with other road trips to Tennessee and L.A. in the rematch with the Rams later on deck. But as Barnwell wrote: “Next Sunday’s trip to Cincinnati is likely their best chance of pulling off a road upset. Beat the Bengals and their path to the postseason is clear.”

Barnwell’s complete article and NFC wildcard playoff breakdown can be read here.

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