The NFC playoff picture is starting to come into clearer focus. Six teams have already clinched playoff berths with three divisions decided and the No. 1 seed going to the Packers. The only undecided division, the NFC West, will go to either the Rams or the Cardinals, two teams that have already clinched playoff spots.
So, everything in the NFC playoff race looks normal. Well, almost everything. There is one oddity in the standings right now among the teams vying for the Nos. 6 and 7 seeds in the postseason.
The Eagles have clinched a playoff berth. The 49ers have not.
Why is that so strange? Well, the 49ers are actually ahead of the Eagles in the standings. The 49ers are the No. 6 seed in the NFC and the Eagles are the No. 7 seed. They both have the same record of 9-7, but despite trailing the 49ers in the standings the Eagles are guaranteed to make the postseason regardless of their Week 18 results.
Here’s why the Eagles were able to clinch a playoff spot ahead of the 49ers and why San Francisco remains in front of them in the standings.
NFL PLAYOFF PICTURE: How AFC, NFC Wild Card races are shaking out
Why the 49ers are ahead of the Eagles in the NFC playoff picture
The reason that the 49ers are ahead of the Eagles is simple. The 49ers played the Eagles during Week 2 of the season and emerged with a 17-11 victory. That means that the 49ers own the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Eagles.
Because San Francisco and Philadelphia are the only two teams in the NFC with a 9-7 record, the 49ers are ahead of the Eagles because of that tiebreaker. They will remain ahead of the Eagles if the teams finish in a two-way tie for sixth place in the NFC.
However, the 49ers still haven’t clinched a playoff spot because of one pesky team lingering in the race for the final Wild Card spot.
Why the Eagles clinched a playoff spot before the 49ers
The Eagles clinched a playoff berth before the 49ers because they cannot be caught by the lone team remaining “in the hunt” for a playoff spot. The Saints, who have an 8-8 record, are a game back of both the 49ers and the Eagles, but they would not be able to overtake Philadelphia under any circumstances.
The Eagles beat the Saints 40-29 in Week 11 to give them the head-to-head tiebreaker against New Orleans. That means that if the Eagles and Saints ended the season in a two-way tie for seventh place at 9-8, Philadelphia would advance to the playoffs because of that win.
If both the Eagles and 49ers lose and the Saints win, that would create a three-way tie for the final two Wild Card spots. That would necessitate a tiebreaker that would ultimately come down to the team with the best record against in-conference opponents. The Eagles and Saints would both be 7-5 against the NFC while the 49ers would be 6-6.
That would drop the 49ers out of the playoffs and leave the Eagles in. Philadelphia would then get the No. 6 seed thanks to their head-to-head victory over the Saints.
So, even though the 49ers own the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Eagles, Philadelphia has officially clinched a playoff spot because it owns the all-important tiebreakers over the Saints. The 49ers do not, so that’s why San Francisco is still fighting for a playoff berth.
NFL POWER RANKINGS: Packers continue to be league’s best team
How the 49ers can clinch a playoff spot in Week 18
The 49ers have a simple path into the postseason. If they beat the Rams, they will make the playoffs as the NFC’s sixth seed. However, they can also get in if the Falcons give them a helping hand and beat the Saints.
Below are the official scenarios that can get San Francisco to the postseason:
- 49ers win or tie OR
- Saints loss or tie
FiveThirtyEight gives the 49ers a 61 percent chance of making the playoffs. That’s the second-highest among teams that have yet to clinch a playoff berth, trailing only the Colts (90 percent chance).