The 49ers' loss to the Tennessee Titans on Thursday night was frustrating for several reasons. From Jimmy Garoppolo's errant throws to the defense's miscues, San Francisco's 20-17 defeat means that, for the moment, it no longer controls its playoff destiny.
Kyle Shanahan's club enters Monday at 8-7 and still in sixth place in the NFC, with a Week 17 date against the Houston Texans on deck. The 49ers currently have a 70 percent chance to make the playoffs, per ESPN's FPI. However, the loss to the Titans has brought a nightmare scenario into play for the 49ers -- one which sees them win their remaining two games and still miss the playoffs.
The 49ers currently are tied with the Philadelphia Eagles (8-7), but own the tie-breaker over the Eagles thanks to their Week 2 win in Philadelphia. The Eagles occupy the seventh and final playoff seed in the NFC, just ahead of the New Orleans Saints (7-7), who play Monday night against the Miami Dolphins.
The Saints can throw a massive wrench in the 49ers' playoff plans if both they and the Eagles win out. While the 49ers own the head-to-head win over the Eagles, a three-way tie is decided by conference winning percentage. If all three teams win out and finish at 10-7, the Eagles would get the No. 6 seed thanks to an 8-4 record against the NFC.
That would leave the 49ers and Saints with a 6-5 record against the NFC. That tie-breaker will go to the Saints, who, if they win out, would have a better record against common opponents. The 49ers and Saints have played the Eagles, Seattle Seahawks, Atlanta Falcons, and Green Bay Packers this season. The 49ers went 2-4 against those teams. If the Saints win out, including a Week 18 win over the Falcons, they would have a 3-3 record against those teams and earn the No. 7 seed.
In short: The 49ers' two losses to a now 5-10 Seahawks team would keep them out of the playoffs in this scenario.
There is good news, however.
The Saints face a red-hot Dolphins team Monday night. Rookie quarterback Ian Book will make his first career start for the Saints with Taysom Hill and Trevor Siemian on the COVID list.
A New Orleans loss to the Dolphins means the 49ers would once again control their playoff fate. If the Saints win Monday, they finish the season against the free-falling Carolina Panthers and the Falcons.
Another silver lining for the 49ers is the Eagles finish the season against a Dallas Cowboys team that likely will be playing for playoff seeding. The Eagles face the Washington Football Team, who just gave up 56 points to Dallas, in Week 17.
First, the 49ers have to do what the Los Angeles Chargers couldn't in Week 16 -- take care of a now frisky Texans team. Then, Shanahan must continue his ownership of the Los Angeles Rams in Week 18 to finish the season at 10-7. If the 49ers take care of business and the Eagles or Saints drop one game, they will punch their playoff ticket.
If all three teams win out, the 49ers will be left to ponder the numerous lost opportunities that will define the 2021 season.