The San Francisco 49ers are now on the perch where many NFL observers thought they belonged, as the No. 1 seed in the NFC. This week, they also became the first NFL team to clinch a playoff berth.
Most major sites and platforms clearly have the Niners atop their power rankings, and the three-game losing streak from Weeks 6 through 8 is a distant memory. San Francisco’s average margin of victory over its past five wins is 19.4 points.
The 49ers should be able to handle the Arizona Cardinals in Week 15 easily and the Washington Commanders similarly in Week 17. The regular season finale is against the Los Angeles Rams, and that could be a hard-fought matchup against a playoff contender, but San Francisco should still be expected to prevail.
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The one major matchup remaining for the Niners will be a possible Super Bowl 58 preview against the Baltimore Ravens in Week 16. Yet San Francisco has already impressively dismantled the other top two contenders In the NFC in head-to-head matchups, and even if Baltimore wins, the 49ers will still likely be considered the top team in its conference.
The Dallas Cowboys have improved since the Niners routed them by 32 points in Week 5. They are certainly eyeing a playoff rematch to get even.
Anything can happen in the postseason, but the expected scenario is that the Cowboys and 49ers will meet in the NFC Championship Game, as each team is on a quest to end a long championship drought.
Yes, the Philadelphia Eagles are the defending conference champs and have a puncher’s chance of ousting San Francisco or Dallas. In the NFL, narratives can quickly change based on one or two games, and staying healthy is a major factor in earning a Super Bowl berth.
Still, the 49ers have the best odds to win Super Bowl 58 on DraftKings Sportsbook at +240. San Francisco obviously has the best odds to win the NFC at +120, yet while Dallas impressively downed Philadelphia, the Eagles still have better odds to win the conference at +330, while the Cowboys are at +380.
If Vegas odds are any indicator of what to expect, the Cowboys will once again follow up a promising regular season by falling short of their playoff goals. Dallas and Philadelphia may be vying for the ultimate right to be eliminated in the NFC Championship.
Dak Prescott might have the edge in the MVP race because a strong case could be made that Christian McCaffrey is just as valuable to the 49ers as Brock Purdy is, which is no slight on Purdy’s earned status as one of the better QBs in the game right now.
But as prestigious as winning an individual award would be for Purdy and serve as tremendous vindication for Niners fans against his critics, the real coveted prize is the franchise’s first Super Bowl championship in nearly 30 years.
Dominating the opposition consistently positions the current narrative that San Francisco is the team to beat in the NFC and overall. No matter how you view Purdy as a product of his environment or a very capable playmaker, he is ultimately the ideal fit for the system and team around him.
Only a few factors can prevent the 49ers from winning the NFC and returning to the Super Bowl for the third time in the past 11 years. Here are four possible hurdles for the 49ers on the way to a Super Bowl 58 appearance.
1. Game Script: Purdy still needs to prove himself more as a QB who can deliver when playing from behind or getting involved in a hotly-contested matchup with another top team. He has only one fourth-quarter comeback win so far in his career and two game-winning drives.
One of the game-winning drives came in the 2022 playoffs against Dallas, though, and I’m not saying Purdy cannot come through in the clutch, as he has demonstrated tremendous poise and composure so far. But we will have to see how they respond when the 49ers and Purdy are not blowing out an opponent.
The truly great teams don’t just race past opponents consistently; they also come through at critical times in close games. Outside of a seven-point win over the Rams in Week 2, we have not seen San Francisco pull out a close victory, which they may have to do in the playoffs.
2. Injuries: I have already pointed to this. One injury to McCaffrey, or as we have seen this season, to guys like Trent Williams or Deebo Samuel, could certainly derail the championship train. This is true for any contender.
3. The Dallas Cowboys: Despite what the Vegas odds point to, the Cowboys are undoubtedly best positioned to take down the Niners based on having the best comparable roster on both sides of the ball.
It may come down to who will make a play when it counts most between Prescott and Purdy, and while he is playing at the highest level of his career, we have already seen the Cowboys QB fail a few times in the postseason.
4. An Unlikely Team on a Roll: As evidenced by the 2022 Bengals or either of the last two New York Giants championship editions, sometimes a team just gets hot at the right time and upends the favorites on its way to a surprising conference championship, or Super Bowl run.
We also cannot rule out the Eagles bouncing back from regular season defeats to both San Francisco and Dallas and making an NFC Championship push despite their apparent shortcomings that were recently exposed.
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It’s hard to bet against the Niners winning the NFC Championship through the lens of 15 weeks of regular season play, but the job still needs to be finished. Plus, Baltimore may make a statement that it will be the biggest final obstacle to San Francisco tying Pittsburgh and New England with six Super Bowl victories.
You can come up with many good reasons why no one else will beat the 49ers in the postseason and why they might not lose a game again, and those points can be difficult to debate. Prescott may beat out Purdy for the MVP award, motivating the San Francisco QB further.
No one looks better than the 49ers right now. The critics of their QB are primarily fans of other top contenders, and I believe they will beat the Ravens in the Super Bowl.
San Francisco, however, is ultimately not entirely unstoppable, as outlined above. So don’t hesitate to place some wagers on Dallas, Philadelphia, or the sleeper team of your choice to win the NFC.