49ers' road to the playoffs

The 49ers are 4-8, but their playoffs chances are still alive because they have three games left against NFC West opponents. A loss Sunday to the Seahawks, however, could short-circuit their hopes.

No matter how bad things may look for the San Francisco 49ers' playoff hopes, this much remains true: They ain't dead yet.

Everything could change Sunday when the Niners meet the Seattle Seahawks at Candlestick Park. In fact, their entire season rests on the outcome of the game.

Win, and they're mathematically still in contention. Lose, and their season can be reduced to one word: zilch.

The reason the 49ers are clinging to a slim hope is because they have three NFC West games remaining. Win all of those and they figure to come out ahead in any of the possible tie-breaker scenarios the NFL has devised in its Rubik's Cube system to determine playoff teams.

But if they lose to the Seahawks, it's all over. That's because the best record the 49ers could finish with is 7-9; the worst record Seattle could finish with is 7-9. In that case, the Seahawks would win the first tie-breaker, head-to-head record, having already beaten San Francisco in the regular-season opener.

"We've been through a lot, but we still have an opportunity here in our hands," linebacker Patrick Willis said. "Four games left, four games that we have to win. Seattle is a pivotal game. It starts with them, so that's our main focus."

Here's what also works in the 49ers' favor: Seattle (6-6) and the St. Louis Rams (6-6) each have difficult games remaining on their schedule. The Seahawks must face the Atlanta Falcons at home Dec. 19 and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on the road Dec. 26. The Rams are at New Orleans on Sunday and meet the Kansas City Chiefs at home Dec. 19.

The 49ers have a tough non-division game of their own when they travel to meet the San Diego Chargers next Thursday night. That's a quick turnaround.

Coach Mike Singletary said Friday that his players "absolutely know what's at stake. It's a division game and it gives us the opportunity to stay in the hunt. That's all you can ask for."

If you're looking for a little dinner chatter, here is the league's formula for breaking ties within a division. The same steps apply for two-team or three-team ties:

1. Head to head.

2. Division record.

3. Won-lost record in common games.

4. Won-lost record in conference games.

5. Strength of victory.

6. Strength of schedule.

7. Best combined ranking among conference teams in points scored and points allowed.

8. Best combined ranking among all teams in points scored and points allowed.

9. Best net points in common games.

10. Best net points in all games.

11. Best net touchdowns in all games.

12. Coin toss.

INJURY UPDATE: On their official injury report, the 49ers listed kicker Joe Nedney (right knee) and tackle Joe Staley (broken leg) as out. Doubtful: cornerback Will James (concussion) and running back DeShawn Wynn (ankle). Questionable: cornerback Nate Clements (knee), nose tackle Aubrayo Franklin (groin) and linebacker Parys Haralson (ankle). Probable: T Anthony Davis (back), WR Josh Morgan (shoulder), CB Shawntae Spencer (quadricep), LB Takeo Spikes (ankle), TE Delanie Walker (ankle), RB Brian Westbrook (not injury related)

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