*In this Monday edition of Niners Daily, we break down what needs to happen for the San Francisco 49ers to make the playoffs in the crowded NFC. *
At 7-5 and with four games left in the regular season, the team's ideal scenario, obviously, is to run the table. But as we'll explain, a 10-6 record could still be enough for the 49ers to either win the NFC West or secure a Wild Card spot.
Essentially, there are seven teams fighting for five playoff berths. We are leaving the NFC South out of this discussion because only one team from that division will make the postseason. Play around with different scenarios using the ESPN Playoff Machine.
Contenders' Remaining Schedules
Arizona Cardinals (9-3):
vs. Kansas City Chiefs (7-5); at St. Louis Rams (5-7); vs. Seahawks (8-4); at 49ers (7-5)
San Francisco has won its divisional postseason game 15 times, starting in 1949. Here are some of the best shots from those victories.
Green Bay Packers (9-3):
vs. Atlanta Falcons (5-7); at Buffalo Bills (7-5); at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-10); vs. Lions (8-4)
Philadelphia Eagles (9-3):
vs. Seahawks (8-4); vs. Cowboys (8-4); at Washington (3-9); at New York Giants (3-9)
Detroit Lions (8-4):
vs. Buccaneers (2-10); vs. Minnesota Vikings (5-7); at Chicago Bears (5-7); at Packers (9-3)
Seattle Seahawks (8-4):
at Eagles (9-3); vs. 49ers (7-5); at Cardinals (9-3); vs. Rams (5-7)
Dallas Cowboys (8-4):
at Bears (5-7); at Eagles (9-3); vs. Indianapolis Colts (8-4); at Washington (3-9)
at Oakland Raiders (1-11); at Seahawks (8-4); vs. San Diego Chargers (8-4); vs. Cardinals (9-3)
How to Win the Division
With four wins to close out the year, the 49ers would be 11-5 overall, 3-3 in the division and 8-4 in the NFC.
If San Francisco loses to one of the AFC opponents left on its schedule but beats Seattle and Arizona, a 10-6 record could still win the division with help from the Rams. But under any scenario, a loss to either the Seahawks or the Cardinals would eliminate the 49ers from the division race.
After head-to-head record, the first tiebreaker is divisional record. After that, it goes to record in common games (matchups against the same opponent) followed by record within the conference.
The Seahawks and the Cardinals have a leg up on the 49ers in tiebreaking scenarios because they currently own 2-1 NFC West records.
San Francisco has made six trips: in 1982 and '89 vs. Cincinnati, '85 vs. Miami, '90 vs. Denver, '95 vs. San Diego and 2013 vs. Baltimore.
In common games played, the 49ers and Seahawks are each 6-4 while the Cardinals are 8-2. The four remaning games for each team are common games.
If the tiebreaker should trickle down to conference records, the 49ers are currently 6-4, the Seahawks are 6-2 and the Cardinals are 7-2.
The fourth tiebreaker is strength of victory, which will be simpler to analyze in a couple of weeks.
How to Earn a Wild Card Berth
Even if they don't win the division, the 49ers are all but a lock to make the playoffs if they win out.
If San Francisco finishes 10-6, things get a bit trickier.
With head-to-head victories over Dallas and Philadelphia, the 49ers would jump either team should they finish tied.
San Francisco would then need either Seattle, Arizona, Green Bay or Detroit to stumble.
Ideally, the Eagles and Packers (who are each two games ahead of the 49ers) will win their divisions and hand losses to Seattle, Dallas and Detroit (who are each one game ahead of the 49ers) along the way.
If two teams from the same division are tied for a Wild Card spot, the tiebreaking procedure would begin with divisional record.
If two teams from different divisions are tied, the tiebreaker is record within the conference followed by common games and strength of victory.
A three-team tiebreaker is complex. Read more about it here.
Although it's possible for the 49ers to make the playoffs at 9-7, the chances, at this point, are slim.