It’s not that the 49ers’ showdown with the Miami Dolphins on Sunday at Levi’s Stadium doesn’t matter, it’s just that in the grand scheme of the playoff picture this one could very quickly become of very little consequence for San Francisco.
Now, there are certainly reasons it matters. Wins are better than losses, for one (you’re welcome for this analysis), and Miami will give San Francisco a good measuring test as to just how good they are against another one of the NFL’s top teams. Their last test against the Chiefs did not go well, so some affirmation that the 49ers haven’t just been beating up on bad teams would go a long way.
On the other hand, a loss to the Dolphins wouldn’t mean the 49ers are out of contention. From a standings standpoint San Francisco won’t move from the No. 3 seed regardless of Sunday’s outcomes. They’re locked into third place in the NFC for at least this week.
They won’t move up since they’re two games back of the No. 2-seed Vikings. And they won’t move back because they’re a game up on the Seahawks and own the head-to-head tiebreaker.
The bigger deal for the 49ers in their quest for an NFC West crown and a third playoff berth in four years will be their three contests immediately following the Dolphins.
In Week 14 they host the No. 4 seed Buccaneers with a chance to put more separation between the third and fourth spots in the NFC playoff standings. The 49ers go into Week 13 with a two-game cushion.
In Week 15 the 49ers go to Seattle on a short week for Thursday Night Football in a game that could be the tipping point in the NFC West race.
Then in Week 16 San Francisco hosts the Washington Commanders who are vying for a playoff spot and could be battling for the No. 7 seed with San Francisco depending on how the next few weeks go.
There’s also a conference record element that could come into play if the Vikings start to stumble near the finish line, but that’s a bridge we can cross when we get there.
Beating the Dolphins would be a nice feather in San Francisco’s cap as they look to establish themselves as true Super Bowl contenders, but in reality that’s simply related to vibes. They could lose to the Dolphins by a million, win out, and cruise to a division title. It’s nice to stack up Ws against good teams, but the 49ers have more important games to worry about down the stretch that will do far more to decide their postseason fate.