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The 49ers dropped from No. 1 to No. 6 in the conference standings, the result of falling a half-game behind the Seattle Seahawks in the NFC West.
With both games remaining on the schedule against Seattle, it is within the 49ers’ power to wind up winning the division and the guess here is they will regardless of a three-game losing streak heading into the bye.
Yet this nugget from coach Kyle Shanahan Monday was more than a little alarming:
“What sticks out on tape to me the most is just how slow and tired we looked,” Shanahan said on a conference call. “When that happens, it leads to bigger holes, it leads to more mistakes, it leads to more missed tackles. I could see on tape a different type of energy that was disappointing, but I also know that they need this rest. That showed the most.”
The 49ers hit the wall after eight games. Their coach came out and said it. After the bye, nine games remain. I’m not great with math, but that’s one more than eight. Then there are the playoffs to consider, assuming the 49ers get there.
So while players rest up, Shanahan and his staff should be looking hard at their practice plan, checking to see if there’s a way to ease up on the physicality and keep players fresher. It’s a difficult balance because teams already practice with less hitting and intensity than they used to and multiple walkthroughs don’t cut it in terms of crisp execution.
The 49ers have a lot of players who have played a lot of football in their careers. The sport takes its toll. Aside from catastrophic injury, their players’ ability to deal with wear and tear may be their biggest concern, given that the second half of the season will be every bit if not more physical than the first half.
And that could be their undoing.
Here is how the NFC is aligned in terms of playoff seeding heading into Week 9:
1. Philadelphia (7-1): The Eagles aren’t exactly world-beaters of late, but unlike the 49ers, they’re still delivering wins as they’re working through their issues. They were able to overcome giving up 472 yards of offense to Washington, whose quarterback Sam Howell was 39 of 52 for 397 yards and four touchdowns. Jalen Hurts avoided his recent turnover issues, going 29 of 38 for 319 yards and four touchdowns.
Next three weeks: vs. Dallas (5-2), bye, at Kansas City (6-2)
2. Detroit (6-2): Settling for three short field goals, missing a chip-shot field goal and giving up a pick-six Monday night against an inferior opponent can be a recipe for disaster. Fortunately that inferior opponent was the Raiders, whom the Lions dominated in every way. Detroit under coach Dan Campbell has won 14 of its last 18 games and appears to have clear sailing toward a division title. The Lions haven’t hosted a playoff game in 30 years.
Next three weeks: Bye, at L.A. Chargers (3-4), vs. Chicago (2-6)
3. Seattle (5-2): The Seahawks’ future schedule still has both games with the 49ers that will determine the NFC West championship. They’re serious too — witness the reported trade for Giants’ defensive lineman Leonard Williams. One problem — quarterback Geno Smith, whose decision-making was top-shelf a year ago, has five interceptions in his last three games. That can’t continue.
Next three weeks: at Baltimore (6-2), vs. Washington (3-5), at L.A. Rams (3-5)
4. Atlanta (4-4): Nobody has turned the ball over more than Falcons quarterback Desmond Ridder, who has 12 giveaways after a loss to Tennessee. Ridder was sacked five times and removed for a concussion evaluation but left on the bench in favor of Taylor Heinecke. More bad news for Atlanta — standout defensive tackle Grady Jarrett is done for the season after a torn ACL.
Next three weeks: vs. Minnesota (4-4), at Arizona (1-7), bye
5. Dallas (5-2): Left for dead after a 32-point thrashing at Levi’s Stadium against the 49ers, the Cowboys have a second shot at a statement game when they visit the Eagles. Since the debacle in Santa Clara, Dallas quarterback Dak Prescott is 46 of 61 for 576 yards, five touchdowns and one interception in wins over the Chargers and Rams.
Next three weeks: at Philadelphia (7-1), vs. N.Y. Giants (2-6), at Carolina (1-6)
6. 49ers (5-3): Of all the potential problems for the 49ers in 2023, a leaky defense with no pass rush was far down the list. In the last two games, Kirk Cousins and Joe Burrow were 63 of 77 for 661 yards, five touchdowns and one interception. That’s a combined quarterback rating of 118.7. By point of comparison, the best Joe Montana ever did over a full season was 112.4 and Steve Young 112.8. Tom Brady’s all-time best was 117.2 and Peyton Manning 121.1. Shanahan said he’s going to discuss moving Steve Wilks from the coaches’ box to the field to get a better look.
Next three weeks: Bye, at Jacksonville (6-2), vs. Tampa Bay (3-4)
7. Minnesota (4-4): Kirk Cousins was just about at the point where his legions of doubters were coming around to his skill as a decision-maker and passer. Then he tore his right Achilles’ tendon, which essentially torpedoes any chance the Vikings had of ending up in the playoffs. They were borderline at best anyway. Now they’re done.
Next three weeks: at Atlanta (4-4), vs. New Orleans (4-4), at Denver (3-5)
8. New Orleans (4-4): Taysom Hill’s ability as a runner near the goal line has helped Derek Carr’s issues near the red zone. And Carr has found a deep target he’s comfortable with in Rashid Shaheed. With Alvin Kamara hitting his stride and a solid defense, it’s hard to imagine New Orleans not winning the NFC South.
Next three weeks: vs. Chicago (2-6), at Minnesota (4-4), bye
SCOPING THE AFC
A long way to go, but the first five seeds appear to be locks. It’s just a matter of the order in which they are arranged at the close of the regular season. Miami could really use a win at Arrowhead Stadium Sunday to prove they can beat a potentially elite opponent. Patrick Mahomes needed IVs to play in a shocking 24-9 loss to Denver. If the Chiefs lose to the Dolphins, it’s a big deal.
Current seeding for the postseason
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
8. N.Y. Jets (4-3), 9. Cincinnati (4-3).