Where the 49ers stand, and a wild scenario

December, 14, 2011
12/14/11
3:36
PM ET
Looks like Ashley Fox drew the short straw in her debate with John Clayton over which team, San Francisco or New Orleans, stood the best chance at upsetting Green Bay in a playoff game.

As well as the 49ers were playing a few weeks ago, cracks in the foundation have become more visible recently. I went into Week 14 unsure whether they would defeat the Arizona Cardinals. They lost and did not look good.

Clayton's note about 49ers kicker David Akers standing within four made field goals of tying the NFL single-season record tells us plenty.

"Field goals don't beat the Packers," Clayton wrote. "Alex Smith has produced only 25 touchdown drives. The Saints and [Drew] Brees have produced 45 touchdown drives."

A few weeks ago, I would have taken the 49ers to beat the Saints based on their defense, improving ground game and overall efficiency. New Orleans has gotten better since then. San Francisco has plateaued and, in some cases, regressed.

Perceptions can change quickly in the NFL. A 49ers victory over Pittsburgh on Monday night would alter them again. But if the 49ers lose and the Saints overtake them as favorites for the NFC's second seed, here's a tantalizing scenario to consider: San Francisco against one of its division rivals, Arizona or Seattle, in a wild-card playoff game at Candlestick Park.

Yes, I would love to cover such a game.

As a nod to 49ers fans, the scenarios I've linked in the preceding paragraph and in the chart include a San Francisco victory over Pittsburgh. The outcome of that game is irrelevant to the scenarios, however.

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