The San Francisco 49ers made it through the toughest three-game stretch in NFL history last Sunday after facing a trio of teams with an 80% winning percentage.
With a spectacular win over the New Orleans Saints in the Mercedes Benz Superdome, San Francisco escaped with a 2-1 record through these three games. It’s only loss came against red-hot Baltimore Ravens, 20-17, in heartbreaking fashion.
As the No.1 seed in the NCF, the 49ers (11-2) still have work to do in order to secure a first-round bye and home-field advantage throughout the postseason. In control of its own destiny, San Francisco will have to take care of business against the Atlanta Falcons (4-9) at Levi’s Stadium Sunday afternoon.
“I think what we’ve been through these last few weeks and then when you know how people outside of this building will look at it because they aren’t in the playoffs, they have been eliminated, the difference in the records and stuff,” head coach Kyle Shanahan said. “You want to address it, but it’s been very easy for me.”
Along with that, here are three things to look for when the 49ers take on the Falcons Sunday afternoon at 1 p.m.
The 49ers control their own destiny
Sunday played out perfectly for the 49ers.
After beating New Orleans 48-46 in a wild shootout, San Francisco watched as its NFC West rivals, the Seattle Seahawks, fell to the Los Angeles Rams at the LA Coliseum.
The win puts San Francisco one game ahead in the NFC West as well as in the No. 1 spot atop the NFC with the tiebreaker over the Saints. In order to keep that spot and earn home field advantage throughout the playoffs, San Francisco will have to win out the remainder of its games.
On the slate: Atlanta on Sunday, the Rams on Sat., Dec. 21, and finally, a prime-time showdown against the Seahawks at Centurylink Field.
Considering that Seattle beat the 49ers in Week 10 at Levi’s Stadium with an overtime field goal, Week 17 may have massive playoff implications at stake. The first step in the 49ers reaching their goal of the No. 1 seed is beating Atlanta.
Familiar faces for Shanahan
It wasn’t all that long ago that Shanahan was on the sidelines for the Atlanta Falcons, calling offensive plays in the 2017 Super Bowl.
Shanahan spent two seasons in Atlanta, scheming up one of the most prolific offenses the NFL has ever seen and coaching quarterback Matt Ryan to an MVP season.
On Sunday, though, Shanahan will be on the opposite side of the field against Atlanta, trying to keep Super Bowl aspirations alive for the 49ers.
“I loved my time in Atlanta, loved the people I was there with,” Shanahan said. “It was good to be in a good place like that and really enjoyed the players too.”
While Shanahan says he has a good relationship with head coach Dan Quinn, the goal remains the same as its been all season: to win another football game with larger goals in mind.
The 49ers have had to face familiar faces before this season in Matt LaFleur, head coach of the Green Bay Packers, the brother of 49ers quarterbacks coach Mike LaFleur and best friend of defensive coordinator Robert Saleh.
That game ended in a prime-time beatdown as the 49ers handled Green Bay 37-8 on Sunday Night Football.
Secondary issues for the 49ers
Facing one of the best wide receivers in the NFL in Julio Jones, the 49ers will have their hands full from a pass coverage perspective.
To make matters worse, San Francisco will be short-handed in its secondary as cornerback Richard Sherman (hamstring), safety Jaquiski Tartt (ribs) and nickel cornerback K’Waun WIlliams (concussion) have all been ruled out for Sunday.
In Sherman’s place, second-year corner Emmanuel Moseley is expected to step in while Marcell Harris, who started in New Orleans last week, will step in for Tartt. As for the nickel corner position, D.J. Reed will likely be the go-to man.
“That’s something you always have to work, especially with how many DBs you have up on gameday,” Shanahan said. “So everyone knows that that spot is K’Waun’s for us, and when he’s not out there we have more than one option.”
The 49ers have had one of the best pass defenses all season allowing a league-low 150.8 passing yards per game. Without a trio of starters, however against one of the best wide-outs in the NFL, that could be put to the test.