By Jerrell Richardson

With 9 games left in the regular season, and currently sitting tied with Seattle for second place in the NFC West, the 49ers will need a better end to 2014 than their 4-3 start if they hope to make the playoffs. While the record is certainly a bit of disappointment the fact remains that the team’s postseason fate is squarely in their own hands. In fact if they are indeed a Super Bowl worthy team the task of a successful second half is well within reach. They have a schedule that works in their favor, and with the return of Aldon Smith and NaVorro Bowman will only have one excuse if they are not playing in the postseason, and that’s because they didn’t play well enough to deserve it.

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Strength of Schedule Reversal

While 4-3 is barely above .500 when considering that the 49ers had the toughest strength of schedule in the entire NFL during that stretch it’s not that bad. The combined records of San Francisco’s first 7 opponents was 28-15which is no joke. Adding to a tough schedule is the fact that the 49ers have been hit hard with injuries and one big suspension, and it was expected for the team to stumble a bit out of the gate. The second half though is not nearly as rough, and with the assumption that the team, sooner than later will have both NaVarro Bowman and Aldon Smith on the field, the 49ers are right where they want to be.

Compare the .660 winning percentage of the 49ers first 7 opponents to the .431 record of the remaining 9 and that alone is a reason for San Francisco to be licking their chops as the eye their upcoming schedule. Their second half will be far from a stroll in the park though, and will take more than the 49ers simply showing up each week to start stacking wins. It will take the same contributions from all phases if they hope to make a return trip to playoffs, but they have shown that they are more than capable of this, and if not playing as a unit don’t figure to make any noise in the playoffs anyhow.

All (Except One) Favorable Matchups

What works heavily in the 49ers favor is the number of division games left as well as the timing and location of each. The 4 reaming NFC West clashes are right when and where San Francisco wants them, except for the collision with Seattle in their building, which is a daunting task for any team. Outside of this eventual nightmare, the 49ers get the Rams, easily the worst team in the division first thing off the bye and at home. The 49ers are still without all their big names, but just went on the road where they beat St. Louis, and after a week off to rest and at home, San Francisco should have no issues beating the Rams for the second time in a month.

The next game within the division will be week 13 in Santa Clara against the defending Super Bowl Champs. By this time Aldon Smith should be back, while Bowman is a question mark. It’s the Seahawks, so this is going to be a battle, no matter the venue and who is on the field, but at least the 49ers will get home field advantage. They have had luck in the past at home against the Seahawks and with Smith back have to like their chances in this one. San Francisco gets a break, playing the Raiders in between, but has to than go up to Seattle, which quite honestly is a game the 49ers figure to lose. Playing the Seahawks, in Seattle is like going to Denver and playing the Broncos, and we see how that turned out.

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The fourth and final NFC West opponent will be the first place Cardinals in the regular season finale. This game will be in Santa Clara and obviously figures to have huge implications for both squads. Even in Arizona is still as hot as they are now, if the 49ers truly consider themselves a Super Bowl contender, then a win at home to secure a playoff spot should be par for the course.

The non-division games will be against the Saints, Giants, Redskins, Raiders and Chargers. On paper the greatest test figures to be the upstart Chargers, but the Saints and Giants both figure to play San Francisco tough for 4 quarters. Against the Redskins and Raiders, San Francisco should be able to win convincingly, however no remaining team outside of Seattle has the talent as the 49ers.

2 Losses Max

Due to a modest start to their season, San Francisco will need to turn it on down the stretch. The good news is that even has hard as it is to win in the NFL, the 49ers should be able to starting compiling wins at a much quicker pace and start to build some real momentum. The only game that they should lose is the road game against Seattle. Throw in there an opponent who plays out of their mind or some bad luck and the 49ers could lose another one which would leave them at 11-5. Arizona missed the playoffs with a 10 win season just last year, so 11 wins should be just enough to get San Francisco into the playoffs, where they can then focus on their big picture goal of a Lombardi Trophy.

 

For more 49ers news and updates, visit 49ers Central.

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Jerrell Richardson is a Bay Area native who due to a college career at San Diego State University has grown an appreciation for all things sports related in California. His heart will always remain in San Francisco though where he currently resides and covers everything from the San Francisco 49ers and Giants to the San Jose Sharks and California Bears Baseball team. Jerrell is a freelance writer covering all things NFL. His work can be found on Examiner.com.