Can the 49ers Still Make the Playoffs?


Jim Bahn via Creative Commons

A packed Levi’s Stadium before the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a recent game, NY Giants quarterback Daniel Jones broke free, ran about 80 yards, and looked good to score a rushing touchdown, when he tripped over his own feet and fell to the ground. Coming off a 2019 Super Bowl appearance and having retained most of their key players, the 49ers similarly looked destined to reach their goals in 2020. But just like Daniel Jones tripping, things did not go as planned.

The 49ers are 4-5 (4 wins and 5 losses), and while they are just three games out of the wildcard spot in the NFC, their chances of making the playoffs are not looking good, even considering the NFL’s expanded playoff this year. By going 4-5 through the first half of the season, the team is trailing behind the rest of the pack. They are last in their division, and many of their best players are out due to injury. Furthermore, the team is about to have a tough stretch of games against some of the best teams in the NFL. The next several weeks will see the team play the Saints, Rams, and Bills. Playing well in this stretch of games will be crucial if the 49ers are to have any hope of making the playoffs. Every game is now a “must-win.” 

NFL West standings as of Week 9. (NFL)

The 49ers’ current 4-5 record isn’t bad compared to the League as a whole, but in the NFC West — the most competitive division in the NFL — it is. The Seattle Seahawks lead the division with a record of 6-2, the Arizona Cardinals are 5-3, and the Los Angeles Rams are 5-3. The winner of such a strong division will likely finish the season with four losses or fewer. After losing two must-win games to Seattle and Green Bay over the past two weeks, the 49ers already have five losses and are very unlikely to win the division. Thus, the 49ers best path to the playoffs is to secure one of the three NFC wildcard spots awarded to the three non-division-winning teams with the best records. But they are already 1.5 games back in that race.

The current situation may seem hopeless, but the team’s players think otherwise. In a postgame interview after the game against Seattle, 49ers fullback Kyle Juszchek said, “There’s a lot of fight left in this team.” The players know that they are still a competitive team even though their current record may not reflect that. So what’s holding the team back?

The main reason why San Francisco is struggling this season (despite retaining most of the players from their 2019 Super Bowl appearance) is the injuries they have suffered. Last year’s defensive rookie of the year, Nick Bosa, suffered a season-ending injury when he tore his ACL in Week 2 against the Jets. In the most recent game against the Seahawks, star tight end George Kittle suffered a foot injury that will see him sidelined for the next eight weeks, and starting quarterback Jimmy Garappolo suffered an ankle injury that will keep him out of action for at least six weeks. Lots of other players on both offense and defense are injured too. When asked about how injuries affect the team in a recent postgame interview, second-string and now starting quarterback Nick Mullens said, “You gotta play with the cards you’re dealt. It’s all about making plays […] that’s what we have to get back to, just making plays and executing at a high level.” 

In conclusion, the 49ers mathematically still have a shot at the playoffs, but it won’t be easy. There are still seven games left, and a lot can happen in that time — not only to the 49ers but to the other teams ahead of them in their division. If the 49ers want to make the playoffs, they need to beat the Saints, Rams, and Bills in their next three games to get their season back on track. It will also be crucial to have players step up to fill the holes left by injured players. If the team shows the same fight that got them to the Super Bowl last year, then there might still be some hope for a playoff run.