Sunday's game against the New England Patriots is a big one for the 49ers' playoff hopes.
If former Patriots quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo can beat his old team in his first career start against them, ESPN senior analytics specialist Brian Burke tweeted Thursday that the 49ers would increase their playoff odds by 18 percent.
That's not the biggest potential swing of any team in the NFC, but the 49ers would have a better than 50-50 chance of making the playoffs if they improve to 4-3 on Sunday, according to ESPN's Football Power Index. Falling to 3-4, conversely, would drop their odds to below 40 percent.
That's in no small part because the 49ers have the NFL's second-toughest remaining schedule heading into Sunday. Including the Patriots, the 49ers' remaining opponents have a combined winning percentage of .618, as noted by Tankathon. New England is just 2-3, but it's not exactly an ideal time for the 49ers to square off against a coach and quarterback with history on their respective sides.
Patriots coach Bill Belichick is 7-1 against former QBs whom he either drafted or started, and Cam Newton is undefeated in three regular-season starts against the 49ers. New England, as an organization, also hasn't lost three consecutive games since 2002.
The 49ers bounced back in a big way and moved to .500 with a win over the Los Angeles Rams last week, but the Niners probably won't be able to beat the Patriots in the same way. If coach Kyle Shanahan can adjust against Belichick's defensive "illusion of complexity," the 49ers would greatly improve their playoff chances.
All it will take is a win in Foxboro, Mass. Even with quarterback Tom Brady no longer under center in New England, that challenge remains an intimidating one.