The San Francisco 49ers are making their third playoff appearance in four years. As the Bay Area’s lone NFL team, they’re going to be a hot topic, whether you’re in an office, running errands or out to dinner.
Here’s how to sound like you know what you’re talking about.
The Niners will host the Seattle Seahawks on Saturday at 1:30 p.m. in the NFC Wild Card Round, with Fox televising the game. San Francisco (13-4) already beat Seattle (9-8) twice in the regular season, but the Seahawks snuck into the playoffs, grabbing the seventh and final spot in the NFC after Jared Goff’s Detroit Lions upset Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers.
San Francisco is the NFC West champion and enters the postseason on a 10-game winning streak despite losing quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo to a foot injury early in a Dec. 4 win over the Miami Dolphins. In his place, Brock Purdy (#13) has stepped in. The one-time “Mr. Irrelevant” became an overnight cult hero for his performance against the Dolphins and the following week against Tom Brady’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
From ‘Mr. Irrelevant’ to a Starter
“Mr. Irrelevant” is the title jokingly bestowed upon the final pick of the NFL Draft, an “honor” that Purdy was given after the 49ers selected him with the 262nd and final pick. He was originally San Francisco’s third-stringer, and moved into a backup role after Trey Lance suffered a season-ending ankle injury against Seattle on Sept. 18.
Garoppolo’s injury suddenly thrust Purdy into the spotlight, and his performances against Miami, Tampa Bay and in an overtime victory over the Las Vegas Raiders have affirmed his role.
Purdy, an Arizona native who played his college ball at Iowa State, captured hearts as Fox cameras cut to his family in the stands throughout the Dec. 11 win over the Buccaneers.
Other Players To Know
If you haven’t watched the 49ers since last year’s playoffs, most of the cast hasn’t changed in that time, save for the notable addition of Christian McCaffrey (#23). The one-time Stanford star, who serves as both a rushing and receiving threat out of the backfield, was acquired in a trade with the Carolina Panthers on Oct. 20.
Tight end George Kittle (#85) is still one of the best at his position, and wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk (#11) has elevated his game in his third season, breaking the 1,000-yard mark during last week’s regular season finale. Receiver Deebo Samuel (#19), who suffered knee and ankle injuries against Tampa Bay, returned last week as well.
Casual fans and fantasy football players may know a few big names on offense, but probably don’t have much familiarity with defensive stars. The biggest one to know is defensive end Nick Bosa (#97), a likely candidate for the league’s Defensive Player of the Year award. He racked up 18.5 sacks in 16 games.
READ MORE: Where To Watch the 49ers’ Playoffs
Other key members of the defense include linebacker Fred Warner (#54), defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw (#99) and safety Talanoa Hufanga (#29), who made a name for himself with a blocked punt return for a touchdown in last year’s playoff win over the Packers. Linebacker Dre Greenlaw (#57) has a penchant for making big plays against the Seahawks, including a last-second tackle at the goal line in 2019 to secure the division and pave the path to an NFC Championship.
Bandwagon fans who want to sound smart can mention Greenlaw’s past heroics against the Seahawks, or they can allude to left guard Aaron Banks’ (#65) Bay Area roots. Banks grew up in Alameda and prepped at El Cerrito High before attending Notre Dame.
Sizing Up the Competition
Aside from head coach Pete Carroll, who’s been with Seattle since 2010, most of the big names and faces that served as constants in the Niners-Seahawks rivalry over the past decade are gone. Cal legend Marshawn Lynch and Stanford alum Richard Sherman, who delivered an iconic tirade against 49ers receiver Michael Crabtree in 2014 after the NFC Championship Game, have both retired. Quarterback Russell Wilson was traded to Denver and promptly played so poorly that his Hall of Fame credentials are now in question.
At quarterback for Seattle is longtime journeyman Geno Smith (#7), and rookie running back Kenneth Walker III (#9), a Michigan State product, has rushed for over 1,000 yards. The longest-tenured Seahawk is wide receiver Tyler Lockett (#16), who was drafted in 2015. He serves as Seattle’s No. 2 receiver opposite DK Metcalf (#14), whose impressive physique motivated Carroll to take his shirt off during an interview.
On defense, the man to watch out for is Quandre Diggs (#6), whose overtime interception against the Los Angeles Rams helped save Seattle’s season. Jamal Adams is out for the year with a torn quadriceps tendon. The only other name that might be familiar to longtime fans is Nick Bellore, who plays occasional snaps at linebacker. Bellore played for lowly 49ers teams in 2015 and 2016.
The Road Ahead
Should the 49ers win, they’d host an NFC Divisional Round game on either Jan. 21 or 22. The lowest remaining seed will travel to the No. 1 Philadelphia Eagles, while the 49ers would host the higher remaining seed. That means they’d face the Minnesota Vikings if the Vikings defeat the New York Giants. If New York wins, they’d get the winner of Monday’s game between the Buccaneers and Dallas Cowboys. The only way the 49ers would have to play on the road before the Super Bowl would be if they face the Eagles in the NFC Championship on Jan. 29, as Philadelphia has the top seed and home field.
With three wins, the 49ers would play in Super Bowl LVII on Feb. 12 at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Arizona, the Arizona Cardinals’ home field.
What Are the Odds?
FanDuel currently has the Niners tied with the Eagles for the third-best odds to win the Super Bowl, behind the Kansas City Chiefs and Buffalo Bills. They have the second-best odds to win the NFC, trailing only the Eagles.
While the 49ers haven’t won a Super Bowl since 1994, past trends suggest they’ll at least win a couple of playoff games. They haven’t lost in the Wild Card round since 2001, and have won multiple playoff games in each of their past four postseason trips. Last year, they defeated Dallas and Green Bay before falling to the eventual champion Los Angeles Rams in the NFC Championship.
Levi’s Stadium has often been bemoaned by fans for its location and inaccessibility, but the Niners are 2-0 in playoff games at their Santa Clara County digs, beating both Minnesota and Green Bay in 2020. The 49ers have won their last four home playoff games; their last home postseason loss was in the NFC Championship Game on Jan. 22, 2012, an overtime defeat against the Giants.
Ethan Kassel can be reached at [email protected]