49ers a 13-3 wild card? Frank Gore playoff-bound? Some NFL questions
Three quarters of the NFL season is complete, and the playoff picture is becoming fascinating.
• Could a team go 13-3 and be relegated to a wild-card slot? It’s happened before, in 1999 when the Tennessee Titans lost just three games but were a wild card because Jacksonville lost just two games and won the division. The history of that season could give solace to 49ers fans who are nervous about their team’s position: The Titans went on to win the AFC Championship at Jacksonville and made it to the Super Bowl (famously coming up one-yard short of the victory).
• Head coach Kyle Shanahan arrived at the 49ers with questions about his late-game play calling and management. Until this season, those questions haven’t resurfaced because the 49ers haven’t played in any big game. But in the 49ers’ two losses this season, questions have been raised about late game management.
• In retrospect, not playing for the field goal at home against Seattle could be far costlier than the unsuccessful fourth-down pass in Baltimore: The 49ers never got the ball back after that pass was batted down. Frustrating but not the same as letting a win or tie slip away at home.
• Lamar Jackson took over the starting job in Baltimore on Nov. 18 last year. He’s lost just four games since, including in the playoffs last year to the Chargers. He now is running the top seed in the AFC. His emergence coupled with the New England Patriots’ newfound vulnerability may mean the balance of power has finally shifted in the AFC.
• Remember when 49ers fans couldn’t wait for offensive coordinator Greg Roman to leave town? It wasn’t just former general manager Trent Baalke’s teenage daughter who thought he was lousy, though she was the one who tweeted, “Greg Roman can take a hike…the 49ers don’t want you no more.” Roman worked for a Harbaugh and had an incredibly athletic quarterback. Maybe he just had the wrong Harbaugh and the wrong quarterback: He’s now directing the most effective offense in the league.
• The Raiders lost back-to-back games by 30 or more points for the second time in franchise history. The first time was in 1961. What would the Vegas odds have been on that?
• Jon Gruden’s team had 12 penalties. He said, “pre-snap penalties and after-the-whistle penalties, that’s a reflection of me. I’m not going to stand for that.” OK, then; prove it.
• Frank Gore, 36, may be playing in January for the first time since 2014 when he wore a 49ers uniform; the 9-3 Buffalo Bills are currently the fifth seed in the AFC.
• The Pittsburgh Steelers are currently the sixth seed, which means a wild-card berth. That’s after starting 0-3. If the Steelers make the playoffs, Mike Tomlin should get serious consideration for Coach of the Year. Not just for being able to correct course this season, while playing a third-string quarterback, but for what we now realize he had to overcome in past years. Tomlin never let his team implode despite a roster with the difficult personalities of Antonio Brown, Le’Veon Bell and Ben Roethlisberger. That’s worth a retroactive award.
• Speaking of Brown, he may not be in the league but he’s still very busy. He spent Sunday tweeting things during the Patriots game like “RT to put AB in this game,” and a romantic clip of him catching a Tom Brady pass set to “All I want for Christmas is you.”
• Not a coach of the year candidate: Tomlin’s AFC North counterpart Freddie Kitchens. The Cleveland Browns rookie coach has seemed over his head much of the season. But never more than over the weekend when he was spotted going to a movie in a T-shirt emblazoned with “Pittsburgh Started It,” a reference to the brawl between the teams that resulted in the Browns best player, Myles Garrett, being suspended indefinitely. Steelers offensive lineman David DeCastro said: “I thought it was pretty stupid. That’s a lot of bulletin board material. I don’t know why you do that as a coach. Of course, it’s going to motivate us. What are you thinking? It’s just not smart.”
• A year ago, Los Angeles had two football teams headed to the playoffs. This January, it looks like the city will likely have zero teams in the playoffs. Not great, since the brand-new shared stadium is scheduled to open next July, and the level of enthusiasm is decidedly tepid. L.A. is a basketball town.
• While the NFC seems to be the dominant conference this season, there is a glaring exception. No one seems to want to win the NFC East; the Cowboys are leading the division at 6-6 and the Eagles just bombed in Miami. This is when soccer’s concept of relegating teams seems like a great idea: relegate the NFC East to the Pac-12 and promote the SEC West.
Now, get ready for the stretch run.
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