Saints, Ravens are two best teams 49ers have faced, Emmanuel Sanders says

Saints, Ravens are two best teams 49ers have faced, Emmanuel Sanders says

The 49ers have run through the gauntlet over the last five weeks, and come out the other side. 

San Francisco opened a brutal five-game stretch with an overtime loss to the Seahawks, but then proceeded to reel off wins over the Cardinals, Packers and Saints, with a loss to the Ravens sandwiched in between. That three-game stretch against the Packers, Ravens and Saints was the most difficult stretch any team has faced this late in the season in the modern NFL era, and yet the Niners emerged at 11-2 and primed for a deep playoff run.

Now that the 49ers have faced their toughest foes, and the postseason is in their sights, it's fair to wonder which team or teams the 49ers believe are the best they have faced this season.

For wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders, the answer is easy.

"Definitely either the Saints or Baltimore, for sure," Sanders told "The Dan Patrick Show." "Those two teams are really good, and I hope we’ll play both of those two teams again."

The Ravens and likely MVP Lamar Jackson sit at 12-2 after a Thursday night beatdown of the Jets. The 49ers and Ravens dueled in the rain two weeks ago, a game the Ravens eked out on a last-second Justin Tucker field goal. The Saints hung 46 points on the vaunted 49ers defense and would have collected the W had George Kittle not broke off the most important play of San Francisco's season to set up Robbie Gould's game-winning field goal in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. 

[RELATED: 49ers saw 'layup' coming on Saints' two-point try]

But what about the team that handed the 49ers their first loss, the Seahawks? Russell Wilson and Co. momentarily leapfrogged the 49ers for first place in the NFC West in Week 13 but gave the spot right back after laying an egg against the Rams last Sunday.

The race for the NFC West and a first-round bye likely will come down to Week 17 when the 49ers travel to Seattle to face the Seahawks to close out the season. The winner will get a week of rest and ticket to the Divisional Round, while the loser likely will be headed to either Dallas or Philadelphia for a Wild Card Round bout against the Eagles or Cowboys. 

There's a good chance the 49ers could see the Saints again in the NFC playoffs. If San Francisco navigates the final three weeks successfully that game would take place in Levi's Stadium and not the raucously loud Superdome. A return trip to New Orleans is something the Niners would love to avoid.

As for a second meeting with Jackson. Well, Miami sounds lovely in February.

Kyle Juszczyk brings juice to 49ers' run game from endangered position

Kyle Juszczyk brings juice to 49ers' run game from endangered position

SANTA CLARA -- The fullback might be a position on the NFL’s endangered list, but Kyle Juszczyk is thriving.

A segment of the uninformed criticized the 49ers for overspending to acquire Juszczyk on the first day of 2017 free agency without understanding how coach Kyle Shanahan planned to incorporate two-back personnel groupings into his offense. And while the 49ers have achieved success with numerous running backs carrying the ball, the man leading the way has remained consistent.

As San Francisco breezed through the NFC side of the playoffs with a varied running attack, Juszczyk rarely came off the field. He did not had a rushing attempt or reception. But while playing 90 of the 49ers’ 119 offensive snaps, Juszczyk’s contributions were enormous for a team that advanced to Super Bowl LIV against the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday, Feb. 2.

Perhaps nobody on the 49ers’ offense, other than quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, has more responsibilities in the execution of the team’s offensive game plan than Juszczyk.

“We put a lot on him, and we haven't put too much on him, yet,” Shanahan said. “So he's been able to handle it each time. I'll say that's because of his Harvard education, but he's a hell of a football player who doesn't get nervous about anything, and he works very hard throughout the week to understand everything.”

Because the Niners' run game is so varied, Juszczyk has to understand the nuances of every play, and he must be able to adjust on the fly to ensure that he blocks the defender constituting the biggest threat to running backs Raheem Mostert, Tevin Coleman, Matt Breida or Jeff Wilson.

Juszczyk said he deals with a vast amount of verbiage on a weekly basis. When he initially sees the offensive game plan early in the week, it might look overwhelming at first. But his Ivy League education pays off as he, without fail, is able to learn his assignments in the classroom, then carry it over to the practice field and into games.

“After a day or two of being able to absorb it, usually I don’t have a problem with it,” said Juszczyk, who has proved to be a bargain with his four-year, $21 million contract.

Juszczyk, who missed four regular-season games due to a knee injury, made a significant impact in every aspect of the offense even without regularly touching the ball. He carried just three times for 7 yards and caught 20 passes for 239 yards and one touchdown.

The fullback was selected to his fourth consecutive Pro Bowl this season, although he obviously won't be participating. He might not have a lot of competition for selection into the event because few teams actually deploy a fullback these days, but that does not minimize his importance to the 49ers.

[RELATED49ers vets give Super Bowl advice to newbies: 'Just say no']

Said Mostert: “Our coach always explains it to us in the meeting room, ‘I don’t want guys who are necessarily the strongest or the fastest, the ideal fullback; I want a guy who’s a smart football player, because I know a smart football player won’t beat this team up.’ That’s what Juice is. He’s a smart football player. He gets the job done every time he goes out there.”

Because of Juszczyk’s versatility, the 49ers have the ability to be multi-faceted with their run game. You name it, the 49ers do it, as Juszczyk explains, from gap scheme to wide zone to misdirection, traps, counters. The 49ers are able to adjust because their fullback is the best in the business.

“There aren’t too many defensive schemes that are built to take away every single one of those,” Juszczyk said.

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).

Richard Sherman doubts he'll visit White House if 49ers win Super Bowl

Richard Sherman doubts he'll visit White House if 49ers win Super Bowl

The question is inevitable in today's political climate, especially to someone as socially conscious as Richard Sherman.

With the 49ers heading to Super Bowl LIV to face the Kansas City Chiefs on Feb. 2, will they be making a celebratory trip to visit the White House and President Donald Trump if they are victorious?  Will they even be invited? Will they be invited and then uninvited ala the 2017 Warriors? Or given the total cold shoulder like the 2018 Dubs?

If the 49ers are victorious and receive an invite, Sherman doesn't sound like he'll be RSVPing.

"I haven't thought about it. We've got a long way between now and then, but I doubt it," Sherman told The San Francisco Chronicle's Scott Oster. 

Sherman did visit the White House and President Barack Obama after the Seattle Seahawks won the title in 2014.

Last year, the New England Patriots did not visit the White House after their Super Bowl victory, while the Philadelphia Eagles had their invitation revoked in 2018 after it was leaked that very few members of the team would be attending. The Patriots visited in 2017, although Tom Brady did not attend in order to spend time with his mother who was battling cancer.

LSU just visited the White House fresh off their national title win over Clemson. Dabo Swinney's Tigers made the voyage to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue last year after beating Alabama in the 2019 College Football Playoff National Championship Game at Levi's Stadium.

[RELATED: Chiefs have high praise for Kittle, 49ers' run game]

The 49ers have been dominant during the playoffs, thumping both the Minnesota Vikings and Green Bay Packers by 17 points. Now, they face the daunting task of trying to stop reigning NFL MVP Patrick Mahomes, although it's one they seem to be well suited for

However, if they are unable to stop Mahomes then they won't have to worry about whether or not to they should make the trip to D.C.

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).