49ers Playoff Picture Clearing up After Cardinals Upset Loss

Jauan Jennings

Getty Jauan Jennings celebrates scoring a touchdown on the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday, December 19.

By dismantling the Atlanta Falcons 31-13 on Sunday, December 20, the San Francisco 49ers helped themselves by staying in the driver’s seat for the sixth spot in the NFC wildcard race.

But their victory wasn’t the only thing considered beneficial for the red and gold.

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There were two huge upsets that occurred between the hours of 1 p.m. to 9 p.m. PT during Week 15 that impacts the 49ers’ playoff hopes. The Athletic’s David Lombardi, who covers the 49ers, pointed out one of those losses:

But one other defeat on Sunday could have the 49ers thinking this: Miraculously sneaking out with the NFC West title as their playoff chances increased.

How Arizona Loss Impacts 49ers

While the Tampa Bay Buccaneers falling on their face at home to the New Orleans Saints 9-0 left shocked facial expressions on NFL fans, the biggest shockwaves came from the Motor City.

The Arizona Cardinals, who once held the league’s best start at 7-0 in 2021 and was still in contention for the first overall seed in the NFC at 10-3, were smacked by a previous one-win Detroit Lions team that was more in pursuit of landing the top overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft. And the Cards entered Ford Field as a heavy favorite by at least 12.5 points by oddsmakers.

But the Lions’ 30-12 shellacking of the Cardinals has been called “the biggest upset I can remember” from beat writer Carlos Monarrez of the Detroit Free Press. It’s additionally a history-making upset, according to CBS Sports:

The Lions’ Twitter account then had its online fun at the expense of the Cards’ loss:

But with the 49ers now at 8-6 overall and with the Lions providing the secret assist, San Francisco is now just two games back from catching up to the Cards in the race for the NFC West title. So how much does both the 49er win and Arizona loss clear up the NFC playoff picture?

According to ESPN’s updated FPI (Football Power Index) for Monday, December 20, here’s where things stand now for the 49ers:

  • FPI chances to make the postseason: 84.1%
  • FPI chances to win NFC West: 0.8%

“Nobody is really talking about them, but the 49ers have won five of their past six games and have maneuvered into a near-lock position for a wild-card spot,” was what Kevin Seifert of ESPN wrote in his Monday report.

But is there a realistic chance the 49ers could somehow leapfrog both the Cards and the Los Angeles Rams for the division crown? While it’s considered mathematically possible, the 49ers have a lot of scenarios that need to happen. And with an FPI rating below 1%, it’s highly likely that won’t happen.

However, Arizona’s stunner in Detroit still benefits the 49ers — and left the ‘Niners in a much better position to clinch a spot with three games left.

‘The Chances Aren’t High’ Regarding Teams Catching the 49ers

Seifert was honest about the 49ers’ road to the wildcard, even after looking at the remaining trio of games.

“Their remaining schedule isn’t easy; they have games at the Titans (Thursday night on December 23) and Rams (season finale), with a home game against the Texans. But the real question is whether there are two NFC teams set to overtake them at this point. The chances aren’t high,” Seifert wrote.

Outside of ESPN, Cam Inman of the San Jose Mercury News released a guide on what every wildcard hopeful’s postseason hopes look like. The Monday, December 20 article lists the 49ers as having a remaining strength of schedule of below .500 (.487). The 49ers are currently in front of New Orleans, Washington, Philadelphia and Minnesota in the pursuit for the No. 6 seed. Here’s the other contenders’ strength of schedule noted by Inman:

  • Saints: .528
  • WFT: .539
  • Eagles: .478
  • Vikings: .514

Only Philadelphia has a weaker schedule compared to the ‘Niners. However, the Eagles currently sit at 6-7 and behind the 49ers.

Again, Arizona’s loss still gives the 49ers a low percentage to win the division, especially after being swept by the Cards this season. But that huge Detroit defeat, plus S.F. winning its last six of eight including the Atlanta game, has opened up a manageable path to the playoffs for the 49ers.

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