Even a nine-loss team can go to the playoffs

The 49ers may have believed their season was over after last Thursday night's loss to the Chargers. But they returned to practice this week with a chance to win the NFC West. Now they need to take advantage of their opportunity.

SANTA CLARA, Calif. – Rookie running back Anthony Dixon spent part of last Sunday watching football games in the San Francisco 49ers training room. He was there for treatment on his left ankle, but his attention was focused on the TV.

"It was a good feeling," Dixon said Tuesday. "You're sitting there watching and hoping the other team will keep putting up points. It made for a great day for us."

Just like that, the 49ers' playoff hopes went from bleak to better. The St. Louis Rams lost to the Kansas City Chiefs early Sunday, then the Seattle Seahawks fell to the Atlanta Falcons. By late afternoon, the 49ers had a grasp of their own playoff fortunes.

OK, so they're 5-9 and the Rams and Seahawks are 6-8. This season, being bad doesn't necessarily keep a team from winning the NFC West.

No one in the locker room was buying the idea that a team with a losing record doesn't deserve to be in the playoffs. It's never happened before, so if the Niners make it, it would be a first.

"We didn't make the rules," linebacker Takeo Spikes said. "We live in a society where the rules are made, and we're going to play by them. So we get the opportunity to do that with these next two games. Hopefully, we'll take care of business and set ourselves up with the playoffs.

"I don't worry about what this person may say or that person may say. If they had the opportunity to be in our shoes right now, they would love to. But they can't."

The 49ers will need help to advance to the postseason for the first time since 2002. They must beat the Rams on Sunday and hope that the Seahawks lose one of their two remaining games. If that happens, the 49ers will be in control of their destiny.

"It is what it is," tight end Vernon Davis said. "They're continuing to lose and we're winning. We have two games left, so if we can finish up with seven wins, that's pretty good."

That's relatively speaking. In their division, 7-9 would be good enough. Any other division and they're playing out the schedule.

Spikes and linebacker Patrick Willis are continuing to nurse broken right hands but are expected to play Sunday. Even getting an extra few days to rest their hands won't make a difference, Spikes said.

"No, because I think the only thing that really can help you is game simulation versus going out at practice," he said. "I still have to pay close attention to detail as far as in practice, so there's certain things I'm still going to be able to do. Just taking calculated a risk at this time."

The chance to win the West is something the 49ers believed was virtually impossible after their 34-7 loss to the San Diego Chargers last Thursday. But now, with two weeks left in the season, they're back in the race.

"We can't look at any other division and say, ‘If we were there, we'd be out of it,'" said center David Baas. "We're here. Now we have to take advantage of this great opportunity."

ADDITIONS: The 49ers added two players to their practice squad, kicker Fabrizio Scaccia and offensive lineman Dennis Landolt. Scaccia played this season with the Sacramento Mountain Lions of the UFL, connecting on 12 of 16 field-goal attempts, including a league-record-tying 54-yarder. Landolt (6-4, 306 pounds), an undrafted free agent from Penn State, was released from the New York Giants practice squad in October.

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