(By Daisy Barringer)
It's all come down to this. The 49ers must win on the road in St. Louis tomorrow to guarantee the No. 2 seed and a first-round bye. A Saints loss to the Panthers in New Orleans would also give the 49ers the No. 2 seed, but since everyone is playing at the same time, the Niners can't take any chances.
So how are we going to do this?
>> The Niners receiving corps is incredibly depleted. Ted Ginn (ankle) and Kyle Williams (concussion) are still sidelined by injuries, which means Brett Swain will most likely start along with Crabtree. Swain has only played EIGHTEEN offensive snaps this season. I want to believe, but sorry, that makes me nervous.
>> Rookie wide receiver Joe Hastings will likely fill the spot that Braylon Edwards left when he was released a few days ago. I'm totally fine with the release of Edwards who just didn't put up the numbers everyone was hoping for and expecting, but dude, bringing in a rookie who's never played in an NFL game? I can't be the only person who's nervous about that.
>> Delanie Walker (jaw) didn't practice this week and might not even be available for the playoffs. The Niners rely heavily on their tight ends and things will not be the same with only Vernon Davis and Justin Peele on the field.
>> The Rams have nothing to lose. Their coach, Steve Spagnuolo, is probably getting fired on Monday, they've only won two games this season, and basically have no reason not to come out and run trick plays all day long.
>> The Rams suck. Just about everyone said they were going to be the best team in the NFC West this year, but just about everyone was wrong.
>> Sam Bradford (ankle) is listed as questionable. If he doesn't start, Kellen Clemens will take his place for the third game in a row. Now there's a guy exactly no one has on his fantasy team.
>> I think the 49ers can contain running back Steven Jackson. Of course, I also thought they could contain Marshawn Lynch, but if not for that rushing TD last Sunday, I think we'd say they did a pretty good job.
>> Patrick Willis looks healthy and the 49ers won't hold him out if he's ready to go. I kind of hope he plays because I think it will help prepare him for the playoffs.
>> We could actually win this game on field goals. Which is good since we may very well have to.
>> If the Rams lose and the Colts beat the Jaguars, St. Louis would get the first round pick in the 2012 draft. I don't often think teams play to lose, but with Andrew Luck on the line, maybe they will? (If Bradford were healthy, I'd say that would actually be a reason for him to win, but if he's out, he can't control what the coaches/front office decide.)
The Rest of It
Sunday's game is a must-win, but as I type that, I can't help but think how crazy it is that we need to win in order to get a first-round bye. Last year I would have been elated if we just needed to win in order to squeeze into the playoffs with a wild card spot. But we're better than that, so whatever: let's beat St. Louis, take a week off, and come back fresh and healthy(er) on January 14th or 15th.
There's a lot at stake this Sunday. Six teams are still fighting to win their division (Giants or Cowboys in the NFC East, Steelers or Ravens in the NFC North, and Broncos or Raiders in the AFC West) and plenty of other teams are fighting for a spot. So while I encourage you to have fun on New Year's Eve, I am also going to insist that you get your hungover butts out of bed by 10 a.m. on Sunday morning. It's football people. You can sleep when you're dead.
Oh, and for the record: I'm totally okay with bringing back Terrell Owens. I think he's matured enough that he won't be a distraction and frankly, we could use a deep threat. That being said: I don't think it'll happen.
Prediction: San Francisco over ST. LOUIS. By kind of a lot. Maybe: 23-10?
Watch San Francisco at St. Louis at 10:00 a.m. on FOX KTVU (Fox 2).