On the surface, the 49ers' Week 16 upset win over the Arizona Cardinals was impressive. It showed that despite all the adversity this season has thrown at them, the 49ers refused to quit against a division rival with playoff hopes.
On the flip side, that win also knocked the 49ers down the 2021 NFL Draft board. The 49ers currently sit at No. 15 in the rankings after the New England Patriots' Monday night loss to the Buffalo Bills. You'll see some boards that have the 49ers ahead of the Patriots, but those haven't taken into account the Week 17 opponent for both teams. With the 49ers facing the 11-4 Seattle Seahawks and the Patriots facing the 2-13 New York Jets, the Patriots' strength of schedule dips below the 49ers and gives them the tiebreaker.
Now, No. 15 isn't an ideal position to be in for a team that might want to draft a quarterback. There's a good chance that the top-four quarterbacks will be off the board in the top 10. Regardless of where you stand on the quarterback position, everyone can agree that getting the best possible pick out of this forgettable season is the most ideal scenario for Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch.
The 49ers, while sitting at No. 15 now, do have an outside chance to move all the way into the top 10 of the draft depending on how the chips fall in Week 17. Right now, the 49ers are tied with the Patriots, Minnesota Vikings, Dallas Cowboys and Los Angeles Chargers. All four of those teams own the tiebreaker over the 49ers due to a worse strength of schedule. You can thank the NFC West for that.
The Denver Broncos at 5-10, also factor into the equation heading into Sunday's action. The Carolina Panthers likewise sit at 5-10 but there doesn't appear to be a scenario where the 49ers' strength of schedule would finish below Carolina's.
Let's also keep in mind that the Washington Football Team (6-9) could factor into the equation, but as the current NFC East leader they can not get a top-18 pick. Whoever wins the god awful NFC East will immediately drop below the 49ers.
So, here's what the best-case Week 17 scenario would be for the 49ers, obviously starting with a loss to the Seahawks to finish at 6-10.
-- Patriots beat Jets to move to 7-9 -- Cowboys beat New York Giants to move to 7-9 -- Vikings beat Detroit Lions to move to 7-9 -- Chargers beat Kansas City Chiefs to move to 7-9 -- Broncos beat Raiders to move to 6-10
Under this scenario, the Broncos would still have a stronger strength of schedule than the 49ers which means San Francisco would finish with the No. 10 pick and the Broncos at No. 11. Now, you could also hope the Panthers upset the Saints, creating a three-way tie for Nos. 9-11, but I still think the Panthers would edge the 49ers for the No. 9 pick. But, I am a journalist and not a beautiful mind so the math could be off.
So, how likely is all of this?
Let's start with the first part: The 49ers will have at least 15 players on IR on Sunday and five more are not expected to play, including Trent Williams and Brandon Aiyuk. The gutty win over the Cardinals was nice, but I don't think they have another upset in them against a Seahawks team still playing for seeding.
That's one. The Patriots' offense has been an eyesore all season and the Jets are frisky. Having locked up the No. 2 pick, there's no doubt the Jets will be looking to end their season on a high note. Bill Belichick has deep-seated hate for Gang Green, so don't expect him to trot out Jarrett Stidham to improve his draft position. Although, are we sure Stidham is worse than Cam Newton? Anyway, I still think it's likely the Patriots knock off the Jets.
The Vikings are a bad football team. The Lions are worse. Minnesota won't have Dalvin Cook. Matthew Stafford is 50-50 to play. The Vikings should have enough to beat the Lions even without Cook.
There's no doubt the Cowboys can beat the Giants. But the NFC East has been impossible to figure out, so it wouldn't be shocking to see Daniel Jones spoil Dallas' playoff hopes. Keep an eye on that one.
Can the Chargers beat the Chiefs? Well, Patrick Mahomes isn't going to play, and you won't see Travis Kelce or Tyreek Hill either. Justin Herbert almost beat the Chiefs in his first start with no prep. He can knock off the B team. But trusting Anthony Lynn is a dicey proposition.
That brings us to the Broncos. Drew Lock has been statistically one of the worst quarterbacks in football this season. But Denver keeps playing hard for Vic Fangio and the Raiders are a clown car engulfed in flames rolling through the finish line. I think this one has a good shot of happening.
In all reality, I think the 49ers split the difference, get a few of the needed results and finish around No. 12. That's not an awful place to be, especially for a team that will be looking at a cornerback or edge rusher with the top quarterbacks off the board.
But there's at least a shot the 49ers leave Sunday with the No. 10 pick in the draft. A nice consolation prize for a season that never got out of the starting blocks.