How might expanded NFL playoffs help 49ers’ encore?

Tribune Content Agency

The NFL’s 55th annual Lombardi Trophy hunt will welcome an additional two teams, thus statistically improving the 49ers’ — and all teams’ — postseason chances.

Repeating as the NFC’s No. 1 playoff seed just got more imperative.

With NFL owners on Tuesday approving the 14-team field that is part of the new collective bargaining agreement, one catch is that only one team per conference will draw a bye for the wild-card round.

The 49ers narrowly garnered that top spot last season, by way Dre Greelaw’s goal-line tackle that preserved their Week 17 win at Seattle. As a result, the 49ers needed to win only two games to win the NFC, and they indeed beat the No. 6-seed Minnesota Vikings and No. 2 Green Bay Packers en route to Super Bowl LIV, where they collapsed in a 31-20 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs.

The last time a team reached the Super Bowl without a wild-card bye: the 2012 Baltimore Ravens, who beat out the 49ers for the Lombardi Trophy.

Before the NFL gets to this season’s playoffs, a 16-game slate of regular-season games is expected, league executive Jeff Pash said on a conference call with reporters. A 17-game schedule, as part of the new CBA, won’t start until 2021 or 2022.

Not included in last season’s NFC playoffs was the defending champion Los Angeles Rams. The playoff expansion came a year too late for them. They were the last team to miss the postseason cut, doing so a year after falling in the Super Bowl to the Patriots.

“We were the second-worst team in the league last year (in 2018), and now we have to live with being the second-best (in 2019), which I’m proud of, but that is harder because I truly believe it was there for us,” 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said Feb. 28, the last time he or any team official spoke to the media.

Since NFL realignment in 2002, of all the teams coming off Super Bowl defeats, only two finished seventh in their conference and out of the playoffs — the 2019 Rams and 2008 New England Patriots, the latter of whom lost Tom Brady to a knee injury in their season opener.

That said, nine of the past 11 Super Bowl losers went on to make the playoffs the following season.

As for this coming season, presuming it is not delayed nor eliminated by the coronavirus pandemic, the league announced the following:

— Division champions still will earn the top four seeds per conference, with wild-card teams seeded Nos. 5-7.

— Three wild-card games are scheduled for both Saturday, Jan. 9 and Sunday, Jan. 10; It will be No. 2 vs. No. 7, No. 3 vs. No. 6 and No. 4 vs. No. 5

— Nickelodeon will air a separately produced telecast as part of CBS’ coverage of the Jan. 10, 1:40 p.m. PT wild-card game, which also will be streamed on CBS All Access.

— NBS’s Peacock streaming service will offer the Jan. 10, 5:15 p.m. PT wild-card game, which also will be shown on Telemundo.

— The NFL’s regular-season schedule will be revealed before May 10, possibly a month later than usual, per NFL Network.

— NFL draft rooms can include 10 or fewer people as long as they are stationed 6 feet apart, the NFL Network stated. It’s unclear whether teams will be allowed into their facilities. The 49ers have been out of their since March 13, and Santa Clara County’s shelter-in-place order will run through April. The draft is April 23-25.


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