49ers mailbag: How must final four games go for best playoff route?

COVINGTON, Kentucky — Time to open up this week’s 49ers mailbag while sitting in an airport rocking chair, across the river from Sunday night’s free-football showcase in Cincinnati:

If the 49ers do make the playoffs, is there a “preferable” wild-card opponent among the Cowboys, Bucs and Packers, assuming a bye for the Cardinals? (@Sunset_District)

Dethroning Tom Brady and the Bucs seems like a tough entry point. Facing Aaron Rodgers (with more than 37 seconds left) is hazardous, even if he is 0-3 against the 49ers in the playoffs. Renewing the 49ers-Cowboys playoff rivalry is the best option, which might require the 49ers overtaking the Rams in Week 18 for the No. 5 seed. The 49ers certainly are positioned well ahead of all winnable games: vs. the Falcons, at the Titans, vs. the Texans, at the Rams. Win two and they’re in, I’d say. Win four and they get to mess with Texas.

Think the 49ers can get a second-rounder for Jimmy G? (@MikeDelo4901)

Let’s hack into John Lynch’s iPhone in March 2022: “Hello kind sir, yes, Garoppolo is going to cost you at least a Day 2 pick. That’s right, just turn on the overtime film from our win at Cincinnati, and make sure to fast forward through the fourth quarter. Decide quickly because I’ve got to return calls from the Steelers, the Broncos, the Giants, the Dolphins, the Texans; but not the Lions, we like Jimmy too much to send him there.”

Why do we always do things the hard way? (@darrenbn)

True, but what they did in overtime to beat the Bengals produced a vibe similar to their 2019 win in the Washington Mud Bowl Championship. It took a gritty effort in the clutch, from Nick Bosa’s third-down sack that forced a Bengals field goal to George Kittle’s heroics before Garoppolo’s grand finale to Brandon Aiyuk. That finish will reverberate and inspire confidence, more so than a fourth-quarter, sigh-of-relief escape.

Why does trying to predict this 49er team’s performance feel like trying to nail Jell-0 to a wall? (@MoonlightGrah17)

The 49ers are going to run the table and enter the playoffs on a five-game win streak. Or they’re going to lose three more games. Indeed, this team is so odd, and it’s made for a wildly entertaining/nauseating season.

The Seahawks seem to have hit their stride. Do the Niners need to win out to make the playoffs? (@nvb20)

What hurts about the Seahawks’ recent revival (two-game win streak) is that Seattle owns the head-to-head tiebreaker with its two wins against the 49ers. But the Seahawks are just 5-8 and they still trips to the Cardinals and Rams, sandwiched around home gimmies against the Bears and the Lions.

How many players have received booster shots? (@49erdMD)

The 49ers have not shared that information, and the NFL is not requiring boosters for players (yet). A key point: The 49ers are the only team not to have any players go on COVID reserve during the season, and none since three players were on that list to open training camp. “We’ve been pretty good with it,” coach Kyle Shanahan said Monday. “And I think we’re fortunate the area we live in. I know some other parts of the country are definitely a lot harder to have the luck that we have had, but we wouldn’t do anything drastically until there’s evidence that it got in our building.”

With Al hurt, how bad is the Greenlaw injury? (@matty_maff)

Azeez Al-Shaair’s elbow injury sure didn’t look good but he’s listed as day-to-day. He’s come on strong the past month in place of Dre Greenlaw, who could be close to returning from that nagging groin injury. Shanahan said he’s not counting on Greenlaw being ready for their two games in the upcoming 10-day span. The linebacker shuffle is definitely something to monitor this week.

Do you think Jeff Wilson Jr. and JaMycal Hasty play more than five snaps when Eli returns? (@TrevorJBrune)

Without Elijah Mitchell for the fourth time this season, the 49ers leaned on a Wilson platoon with Deebo Samuel, and Hasty has not carried the ball since Nov. 7. If Mitchell is cleared from his concussion and knee issue, then I’d expect the 49ers to ride him, almost too much. His touches the past three games: 27, 32, 25.

Will the rain this week impact practice for Sunday’s game against the Falcons? (@k2caliguy)

It shouldn’t force them to make adjustments (not that they have an indoor facility). The Bay Area’s current storm should yield to clear skies for Wednesday’s return to practice. Sunday’s forecast: partly cloudy, temperature in the 50s.

Will the 49ers ever play in Germany? (@ankemagnuss)

The NFL is looking at holding a game in Düsseldorf, Frankfurt or Munich, but no word on which teams are candidates. The 49ers’ next international game is likely Mexico or London, hopefully in 2022, but who knows how the pandemic might impact that.

What’s your least favorite road-trip city? (@mark.shapiro.80)

Every NFL city has some allure, honestly. Cincinnati has a revitalized section called Over The Rhine and one of my favorite spots, Longfellow, where they serve up perogies and cocktails. I went on a run to the charming Mount Adams neighborhood before my flight home Monday afternoon. My road-trip checklist: find a barber shop, sample local IPA beer, go on jogging explorations and avoid bail bondsmen.

Can I get free tickets to a home game? I’ve never been to a 49ers game in my life. (@kamari_wxvy)

You sound like one of my kids. They even wanted to go to that swamp of a game against Indianapolis, and father knew best to keep them home. Someday. Someday.

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