49ers

NFL playoff picture: Where 49ers stand in NFC after win vs. Saints

NFL playoff picture: Where 49ers stand in NFC after win vs. Saints

The 49ers avoided their first losing streak of the season Sunday, and (briefly) regained control of the NFC's top seed. 

San Francisco improved to 11-2, dropping the New Orleans Saints to 10-3 in a nail-biting, 48-46 win at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans. The 49ers moved back into the NFC's No. 1 seed, and they could hang on to it if the Seattle Seahawks lose to the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday night. 

A Seahawks win at the LA Coliseum would drop the 49ers back into the No. 5 seed, but San Francisco would still be on a path towards earning home-field advantage in the NFC playoffs. Though the Seahawks currently hold the tiebreaker, the 49ers could win the NFC West -- and, likely, the NFC's top seed -- if they win in Seattle in Week 17 and hold a tiebreaker over the Seahawks. 

Those can get complicated, with records against the division, common opponents and/or conference possibly taken account into account. The 49ers have a win over the Saints while the Seahawks do not, but it'd still be easier for the 49ers to root for the Seahawks to slip up before a must-win Week 17. 

[RELATED: 49ers center Richburg carted off vs. Saints with injury]

Here's what the NFC playoff picture looks like following the conclusion of the 1 p,m. ET/10 a.m. PT games.

  1. San Francisco 49ers (11-2)
  2. Green Bay Packers (10-3)
  3. New Orleans Saints (10-3)
  4. Dallas Cowboys (6-7)
  5. Seattle Seahawks (10-2)
  6. Minnesota Vikings (9-4)

How 49ers intend to gain greater East Bay foothold with Raiders in Las Vegas

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AP

How 49ers intend to gain greater East Bay foothold with Raiders in Las Vegas

The 49ers have moved on to Super Bowl LIV. The Raiders have moved on to Las Vegas.

Regardless of which (former) Bay Area NFL team you root for, it's been an eventful week for that franchise. San Francisco sits one win away from its sixth Lombardi Trophy. Oakland ... err Vegas ... officially changed residences.

Many Raiders fans will follow the team to Sin City, whether through in-person support or from afar. But certainly, there will be others who change allegiances, or simply stop watching the NFL altogether, as a result of the pain from watching their hometown team depart for purported greener pastures.

The 49ers are sitting pretty regardless, but with the Raiders now officially out of the region, they're in position to capitalize even further.

Success breeds fan interest, and as the NFL's surprise team this season, the 49ers have been riding a wave of increased fan support throughout their path to the Super Bowl. A large portion of that increase has emanated from the East Bay, and as The New York Times' Ken Belson reported prior to the 49ers' 37-20 win over the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championship Game, San Francisco has plans to gain an even greater foothold in the region with the Raiders now operating elsewhere.

"We would never try to convert Raiders fans,” 49ers chief marketing officer Alex Chang told Belson. "It’s a multigenerational play here for people who are transplants or kids who are growing up here now and won’t have the Raiders."

As part of San Francisco's efforts to establish a greater presence in the East Bay, the 49ers intend to expand their number of charities and free flag football programs in the region and to invite more East Bay school children to their science and technology programs. For obvious reasons, there is a clear focus on the younger audience, but San Francisco isn't necessarily trying to change their loyalties.

"We want kids to be 49ers fans," 49ers chief administrative officer Hannah Gordon said, "but it’s not like we want someone not to be a Raiders fan."

As San Francisco goes about this expansion effort, the organization can look to its next opponent for proof that it can be accomplished. As Belson noted, the Kansas City Chiefs have been very successful in converting former fans of the St. Louis Rams, who left for Los Angeles in 2016. While the fan anger might not ever entirely subside, Chiefs president Mark Donovan told Belson that ticket sales and sponsorship from the St. Louis region remain on the rise.

While the Raiders have dominated fan support in the East Bay throughout their time in Oakland, their constant flirting with the idea of leaving combined with San Francisco's recent success has resulted in a major shift this season. Belson noted that, according to Fanatics, 49ers merchandise sales in the East Bay have increased by 250 percent compared to last year.

[RELATED: Five moments that defined 49ers' journey to Super Bowl LIV]

With the Raiders moving to Las Vegas and the 49ers looking like a contending team for many years to come, one can expect that number to increase even further next season.

Programming note: NBC Sports Bay Area feeds your hunger for 49ers Super Bowl coverage with special editions of “49ers Central” all week (5:30 p.m. Monday and Wednesday; 8:00 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday; 6:00 p.m. Friday).

Chiefs' Eric Bieniemy indentifies 'heart and soul' of 49ers' defense

Chiefs' Eric Bieniemy indentifies 'heart and soul' of 49ers' defense

The Kansas City Chiefs offense is stacked. They have an elite quarterback in Patrick Mahomes and a track team of receivers in Tyreek Hill, Sammy Watkins and Mecole Hardman and Travis Kelce, the best tight end east of George Kittle.

They shouldn’t fear anybody. Not with that lineup. They do have great respect for the 49ers defense, its ferocious front in particular.

That’s an appropriate stance. The 49ers might have the NFL’s best defensive line, featuring Nick Bosa, DeForest Buckner, Dee Ford and Arik Armstead.

The 49ers have the league’s best pass defense and ranked fifth with 48 sacks during the regular season. They have nine more this postseason, largely by taking opponents off schedule and setting up favorable pass-rush situations.

All that’s why the Chiefs attack versus the 49ers defense is strength on strength. Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy understands that and identifies what makes the 49ers go.

“They are fast, and they do a great job of rushing the passer,” Bieniemy said in his Thursday press conference. “They have some big boys up front. That’s the heart and soul of who they are. I’m not knocking anybody on that defense because everything starts up front. It’s just like on offense. We want our guys to be the heart and soul of who we are.

"Well, the heart and soul of that defense lies up front. Those guys do a great job of getting off the ball. On top of that, they have a couple of backers who just fly around. On the back end, those guys are playing very, very sound, with one hell of a leader in Richard Sherman.”

[RELATED: 49ers' Robert Saleh details what makes Chiefs' Patrick Mahomes elite]

The 49ers have linebacker depth and legit players in a secondary that plays its coverages well. It’s a complete unit that has earned Kanas City’s respect.

“Obviously they have a ton of playmakers on the defense with the defensive line, linebackers and in the secondary,” Mahomes said. “They have guys that have experience and they have young guys that are super talented and so you can see that the young guys have really grown as the season has gone on and they have learned from other guys around. They’re very sound in what they do and in the coverages that they play. For us, it’s about executing at a high level and knowing it’s going to be a challenge every single play.”

Programming note: NBC Sports Bay Area feeds your hunger for 49ers Super Bowl coverage with special editions of “49ers Central” all week (5:30 p.m. Monday and Wednesday; 8:00 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday; 6:00 p.m. Friday).