What Barnwell believes of 49ers' playoff chances in NFC


As the 49ers watched Sunday's slate of NFL games from their new Arizona home, they received plenty of help thanks to losses by the Seattle Seahawks, Arizona Cardinals and Chicago Bears. 

The 49ers enter Monday night's matchup against the Buffalo Bills as the No. 9 seed in the NFC, but a win would improve their record to 6-6, which would have them tied with Arizona and the Minnesota Vikings for the final playoff spot. ESPN's Football Power Index still gives the 49ers a 39.8 percent chance at making the playoffs. Even if the 49ers lose to the Bills but then beat the Washington Football Team and Dallas Cowboys, the New York Times gives San Francisco a 38 percent chance at the postseason. 

That would leave the 49ers' fate up to their final two games against division rivals in the Cardinals and Seahawks. ESPN's Bill Barnwell believes the 49ers are "well positioned" to make the playoffs, however, their season all comes down to improved play by quarterback Nick Mullens. 

"Realistically, San Francisco needs to hope that the returning weapons unlock something more out of Nick Mullens, who ranks 28th in Total QBR this season," Barnwell wrote Monday morning. "Shanahan has tried to manufacture easy completions for his passer, but the offense breaks down when opposing defenses get on Mullens. The undrafted free agent has been pressured on more than 31 percent of his dropbacks, and he has posted a league-low QBR of 3.5 when pressured." 


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The Bills apply pressure with the best of them, but luckily for Mullens, all of his top weapons outside of George Kittle will be back on the field Monday night. This will mark the first time that Mullens has played with receivers Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk, along with running back Raheem Mostert. 

Mullens completed 24 of his 35 pass attempts for 252 yards last week in the 49ers' upset win over the Los Angeles Rams. He was intercepted once and failed to throw a touchdown. A big reason why he threw for over 250 yards was the return of Samuel, who had 11 receptions for 133 yards. 

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With Jimmy Garoppolo shelved due to a high ankle sprain, Mullens has had an up-and-down season. He has appeared in seven games (five starts) and though he has completed 67.5 percent of his pass attempts, he has just six touchdowns and seven interceptions. 

The 49ers remain hopeful that Garoppolo could return at some point this season, but if they plan on staying in the playoff hunt, Mullens will have to keep them afloat.