49ers

With playoffs unlikely, 49ers should consider sitting Kittle

49ers

It was a valiant effort, but it fell short. The 49ers might not be officially eliminated from playoff contention, but after losing to the Buffalo Bills on Monday night, the writing is on the wall.

The 49ers are not going to the playoffs this season.

At 5-7 with four weeks left to play, San Francisco certainly will have to win out to have any chance at qualifying for the postseason. And even then, the 49ers will need plenty of help.

Technically, it's possible. Realistically, it's not.

One could argue the 49ers' season was over as soon as Nick Bosa went down with a season-ending torn ACL in Week 2. Or, to take it a step further, their fate might have been sealed as soon as they learned they had to play back-to-back games at MetDeath ... or rather, MetLife Stadium.

The 49ers entered the season with arguably the best roster in the NFC, but they've been hit early and often -- and disproportionately -- by the injury bug, and that collective effect has proven too much to overcome.

Outside of Bosa, the 49ers haven't felt the absence of any injured player more so than George Kittle. The All-Pro tight end missed both of those games at MetLife, returned for Weeks 4 through 8, but has been sidelined ever since with a broken bone in his foot. And based on the 49ers' current outlook, that's precisely where they should keep him.

 

Following the loss to the Bills, 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan told reporters "it's not anytime soon right now" when asked when Kittle and quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo might be able to return from injury. That would seem to indicate we can rule both out for at least San Francisco's next two games, if not more.

At best, the 49ers will be 7-7 entering a Week 16 road (home?) game against the Arizona Cardinals, who already beat San Francisco in Week 1. Even if the 49ers win that one, they'll still need to beat the rival Seattle Seahawks -- who also already beat San Francisco -- in Week 17 to have any shot at qualifying for the playoffs, and that still might not be enough.

As such, the 49ers need to think long and hard about the potential risks and rewards of putting Kittle back on the field this season. They certainly won't rush him back, but even if he's able to play before season's end, they should be seriously considering holding him out.

There simply is very little to gain, and it might turn out that the 49ers have been officially eliminated from playoff contention by the time he is fully healed. The absolute worst thing that could happen to San Francisco in a season that isn't going anywhere is an injury that could throw the next one off track.

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With a healthy Bosa and Kittle next season -- not to mention an easier schedule -- there's every reason to believe the 49ers will be headed back to the playoffs. But if Kittle were to return at some point this season and sustain a significant injury, that no longer would be the case. At this point, the 49ers have a much better shot at winning the Super Bowl next season than they do in the current one, and their plans for Kittle should reflect that.

Maybe two weeks pass, some crazy stuff happens and the 49ers still have a legitimate chance to qualify for the playoffs. That obviously would change the calculus. But if the status quo is relatively maintained, they're probably better off placing a strong bet for next season than taking a gamble on the current one.