Sunday's matchup between the San Francisco 49ers and the Arizona Cardinals will mean plenty to Jim Harbaugh and Co.
Following last season's run to the NFC Championship Game, the San Francisco 49ers looked poised to make another deep run in the postseason.
Yet postseason aspirations have been put on hold following a 42-13 loss at the hands of the Seattle Seahawks Sunday night -- a loss that has put the NFC West division up for grabs heading into Week 17.
Regardless of how Week 17 turns out, San Francisco is headed to the playoffs. But with a win over the Cardinals Sunday or a Seahawks' loss to the Rams, they will secure the division crown for the second consecutive season. The 49ers would prefer to do so with a win, however, because a potential first round bye is still up for grabs, as well.
Alex Smith torched the Cardinals (18-of-19 for 232 yards and three touchdowns) back in Week 8, but the Redbirds won't be seeing him come Sunday. Second-year quarterback Colin Kaepernick will be making his seventh career start since replacing Smith in Week 11.
For the Cardinals, the game represents nothing more than the conclusion of a long, painful season.
Wednesday, December 26
Does Jim Harbaugh leave Colin Kaepernick in to get more experience and risk injury in what at that point is garbage time against a frustrated opponent? Does he bring in Alex Smith to get some reps in case Colin gets hurt in the playoffs? What if defense and special teams have set up most of the scoring and Colin looks inconsistent? Any chance in garbage time he plays Scott Tolzien to avoid any Alex questions or issues? (I doubt that).
The season-ending knee injury Manningham suffered against Seattle on Sunday night will cost the 49ers their most targeted wide receiver other than Michael Crabtree.
A potential Pro Football Hall of Famer seeking his first Super Bowl ring, Moss certainly carries more clout than Brett Swain and Joe Hastings, the two receivers who lined up with Crabtree in the 2011 regular-season finale at St. Louis.
Tuesday, December 25
If the short-handed 49ers are to make another deep postseason, they will need to involve tight end Vernon Davis in their offensive plans more.
Wide receiver Mario Manningham suffered an ACL injury in San Francisco's loss to Seattle Sunday and will miss the remainder of the 2012 season, including the playoffs.
A day after enduring his most lopsided loss as a head coach since 2007, Jim Harbaugh was in no mood to rehash Sunday's 42-13 whipping in Seattle.
If there was a theme to Harbaugh's brief media session Monday it was that his team has to "reorganize, refit and regroup," a phrase he trotted out more than once.
Monday, December 24
The 49ers need a win Sunday and a loss by the Green Bay Packers to secure a first round bye. After losing two of their last four, that bye could be pivotal for a team that could use some rest.
Sunday's 42-13 loss to the Seattle Seahawks didn't just leave the NFC West division up for grabs, it changed the whole tone and complexion of the 49ers' season.
The message was loud in clear in the Seahawks' 42-13 pounding of the 49ers Sunday night: If San Francisco doesn't get back to playing physical football, they won't last long in January.
Jim Harbaugh is on the verge of leading the 49ers to their second division title in as many years, yet Sunday's loss may have exposed several of the coach's flaws.