The Browns are 11th, the Bengals 13th — thanks to their slow start — and the Vikings are 15th. So, to date, the Niners have only played one team in the top-10, but had three other games against teams inside the top 15, and two against divisional opponents.
The strength of schedule only gets stronger. According to DVOA, the 49ers face the fifth-toughest schedule:
Based on DVOA of opponents. SOS so far/rest of way:
SEA 32/3 MIA 30/4 BUF 29/5 WAS 27/7 SF 24/6 PHI 22/9 BAL 16/2
The 49ers schedule last season provided a soft landing to break in rookie quarterback Brock Purdy. Winning comfortably in the same manner as a year ago won’t be the case this time around.
Jacksonville will be coming off a bye. Then, you get Baker Mayfield. But after that, the next three games will decide quite a bit. Arizona should have Kyler Murray under center by then. And while that’s not a good team, the Cardinals should be competitive.
The Ravens offense went nuclear against the Lions. The 49ers’ defense made Joe Burrow look like Lamar Jackson at times. Baltimore will present challenges that I’m not even sure Philly or Seattle will.
Thankfully, the final two games should help the team’s confidence as they make their way to the playoffs.
The 49ers have been consistent in thumping the “bad” teams on their schedule this season. That’ll need to continue during the second half. If we assume the Niners handle business against their lesser opponents, that gets them to nine wins.
Looking at the landscape of the NFC, ten wins gets you a playoff berth. That means San Francisco needs to win one of the four games against the top teams. If the team has their sights set on the No. 1 seed — which is certainly obtainable and should still be the goal — it may take winning three out of those four games.
The Eagles don’t exactly play a cupcake schedule. I’d argue their path to the No. 1 seed in the NFC is far more difficult. Philadelphia plays the Cowboys twice, the Chiefs, 49ers, Bills, and Seahawks, before ending the season against the Giants in two games and the Cardinals. That’s six teams in the top-10 in DVOA compared to five for the 49ers.
There are a couple of swing games that’ll determine both the NFC West and the NFC. The Seahawks-Eagles-Seahawks will be the most critical stretch of the season for the Niners.