Welcome to the annual 49ers playoff guide. Oh, sure, it’s been missing the past five years, so we’ll make up for it with all you need to know:
1. THE SCHEDULE: As the NFC playoffs’ No. 1 seed, the 49ers (13-3) don’t play in this weekend’s wild-card round and have home-field advantage for the ensuing two rounds.
They’ll open Saturday, Jan. 11 (1:35 p.m.) at Levi’s Stadium against the winner of Sunday’s wild-card game between the No. 5 Seattle Seahawks and host No. 3 Philadelphia Eagles, unless the No. 6 Minnesota Vikings upset the No. 3 New Orleans Saints on Saturday.
“We’ll see them again. It won’t end like that next time,” Seahawks defensive end Jadeveon Clowney said after Sunday night’s 26-21 loss to the 49ers.
The NFC Championship Game is Sunday, Jan. 19 (3:40 p.m.) and the Super Bowl is Feb. 2 (3:30 p.m.) in Miami. Advancing through their divisional-round opener would give the 49ers an extra day to recover and no cross-country travel, unlike their opponent.
2. THE SEED: This is the 49ers’ first time as a No. 1 seed since 1997, when they fell in the NFC Championship Game to the Green Bay Packers (who then lost to the Mike Shanahan-coached Denver Broncos in the Super Bowl).
The 49ers were the top seed in four of their five Super Bowl wins: 1981, ’84, ’88, and ’94; they were No. 2 in 1988. Since 1975, the Super Bowl has been won by a top seed in 25 of 45 games, including from 2013-17.
3. BYE WEEK: How will the 49ers spend this bye week? It’s an overdue break considering their regular-season bye was in Week 4, three months ago. They had Monday off, will practice lightly today, and after a New Year’s Day holiday, they’ll practice Thursday and Friday before a three-day weekend.
4. HEALTH WATCH: Defensive end Dee Ford (hamstring) and strong safety Jaquiski Tartt (ribs) are likely to return after extended absences. Ford (hamstring) has missed most of the past 1 1/2 months and hasn’t practiced since the New Orleans game. Tartt (rib fracture, Dec.1) resumed practicing last week. Right guard Mike Person (neck) didn’t play in the past two games, and that rest has him “good to go,” coach Kyle Shanahan said.
“That extra week of rest is going to go a long way and get a few game-changing players back that I think are going to make a difference,” fullback Kyle Juszczyk said.
The only injuries from Sunday night’s win were to Jimmie Ward (ankle) and Nick Bosa (minor hand issue) but both were in for the frantic finish.
5. DEPTH CHART: Shanahan gave cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon a vote of confidence postgame Sunday, even though he got benched for Emmanuel Moseley after yielding two touchdowns. Shanahan wouldn’t commit to either Monday. The other spot potentially up for debate is right guard, where Daniel Brunskill has filled in well for Person, who Shanahan said won’t be fully healthy until the offseason.
6. JOB INTERVIEWS: To no surprise, defensive coordinator Robert Saleh is being courted as a potential head coach. The Cleveland Browns will come interview him this week, and other candidates include former 49ers offensive coordinators Mike McCarthy (2005) and Greg Roman (2011-14).
7. IMPRESSIVE STATS: The 49ers scored 479 points to matched the second-highest point total in franchise history (1998), and just 24 points shy of their last Super Bowl-winning team (1994).
Jimmy Garoppolo’s 13 wins as the starting quarterback were one off the franchise record shared by Joe Montana (1984, ’90) and Steve Young (19920 and his 3,978 passing yards were fourth-most in team history. Garoppolo’s 69.1 completion percentage was third-best in 49ers history, behind Young (70.3 percent; 1994) and Montana (70.2 percent, 1989).
Defensively, the 49ers’ league-leading pass defense allowed just 169.2 net yards per game, the NFL’s fewest since 2009 (New York Jets; 153.7 yards).
8. AWARD TIME: Last week’s Pro Bowl announcement saw just four 49ers selected – defensive end Nick Bosa, tight end George Kittle, fullback Kyle Juszczyk and cornerback Richard Sherman. A slew of players are Pro Bowl alternates, and all 49ers hope to be unavailable for the Jan. 26 all-star game in Orlando and instead fly further south that day for Super Bowl week.
Look for Bosa to win Defensive Rookie of the Year, Garoppolo as the Comeback Player of the Year and perhaps general manager John Lynch as Executive of the Year. No tight end has won league MVP honors but darn it if George Kittle hasn’t put forth a solid bid.
9. RUNNING MEN: The 49ers rushing attack (144.1 yards per game) ranked second in the league, even after losing Jerick McKinnon (knee) for a second straight season before he could take his first snap. Raheem Mostert (772 yards) has run for eight touchdowns, including at least one in the last six games, a streak accomplished by only two other running back in 49ers history (Joe Perry, Derek Loville). Starter Tevin Coleman (544 yards, 6 TDs) hasn’t had more than five carries in any of his past five games. Seldom-activated Jeff Wilson Jr. had four touchdown runs while 2018 team rushing leader Matt Breida had only one (plus 623 yards). Deebo Samuel is the first 49ers wide receiver to rush for three touchdowns in a season.
10. SUPER BOWL ODDS: So, can the 49ers win the Lombardi Trophy for the first time in 25 years? They have 4-to-1 odds (BetOnline.ag), the same as AFC No. 2-seed Kansas City. AFC top seed Baltimore (11-to-5) is the favorite, and it beat the 49ers 20-17 at home Dec. 1 on a field goal as time expired.
Odds on the 49ers’ potential Super Bowl matchup: Baltimore Ravens (15/4), Buffalo Bills (80/2), Houston Texans (66/1), Kansas City Chiefs (13/2), New England Patriots (16/1), and, Tennessee Titans (125/1).
“Guys are ready for this,” said Garoppolo, a two-time Super Bowl winner as Tom Brady’s backup with New England.