It can be very simple for the 49ers.
According to the NFL, neither the 49ers nor the Seattle Seahawks can clinch the NFC West this week. But both teams have already assured themselves of spots in the playoffs.
If the 49ers win their next two games, they will win the NFC West and earn home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
But even with a home loss to the Los Angeles Rams on Saturday night, it could still set up a winner-take-all game between the 49ers and Seattle Seahawks in Week 17 for the NFC West title.
But home-field advantage – or even a first-round playoff bye – becomes a lot more tenuous if the 49ers were to stumble at Levi's Stadium this weekend.
San Francisco appears to have a distinct tie-breaker advantage over the Seahawks if both teams were to finish with the same record.
But a loss against the Rams would open the door for both the New Orleans Saints (11-3) and Green Bay Packers (11-3) to leapfrog the NFC West champion and secure one of the top two seeds and an opening-round playoff bye.
The 49ers hold head-to-head tiebreakers over the Saints and Packers based on having victories over those teams. But if those teams win out, and the 49ers drop one game, those teams would have better seedings in the NFC playoffs. Only the top two seeds in each conference earn a first-round bye in the playoffs.
So . . . let’s say the Rams beat the 49ers, and the Seahawks defeat the Arizona Cardinals in Week 16. Then, if the 49ers win at Seattle in Week 17, it would leave the 49ers and Seahawks both with 12-4 records.
The NFL would consult its tie-breaker formulas to determine which team is crowned the division champ and which team enters the playoffs as a wild-card team.
Here are the tie-breakers and how they factor into this equation:
1, Head to head: The 49ers and Seahawks would have split their two meetings.
2, Division record: The 49ers and Seahawks would both be 4-2 in NFC West games.
3, Common games: Each of the 49ers’ and Seahawks’ four losses would be in common games.
4, Conference record: Both teams would be 9-3 in the NFC.
5, Strength of victory: Here’s where it gets tricky, but it appears to favor the 49ers . . .
Seattle currently leads in the strength of victory category with the teams they’ve beaten having won 72 games. Teams the 49ers have beaten have won 68 games.
The Seahawks would pick up another four games with a win over the Cardinals to take an eight-game lead. The 49ers want Green Bay, Washington and New Orleans to win their remaining games, while Philadelphia, Minnesota and Atlanta victories will benefit the Seahawks.
But the big one for the 49ers is Week 17. If the 49ers defeat Seattle, that would add another 12 wins to the 49ers’ strength-of-victory and would seemingly place the 49ers in an advantageous position to win the strength-of-victory tiebreaker.
If, by some bizarre happening, the teams end up tied in strength of victories, it goes to strength of schedule. And, there, it appears the Seahawks hold a significant advantage with a seven-game lead over the 49ers with two weeks to play.
For more on how the 49ers are set up entering the final two games of the regular season, listen here to The 49ers Insider Podcast.