The San Francisco 49ers of the last eight years have been entering Week 17 either calling it a season, or hoping on an awful lot of things to happen to allow them into the playoffs. Since 2003, Week 17 has marked the point in which 49ers fans turn on the TV, get a little angrier about a lost season, turn it back off again and start studying draft prospects. Now they've got a new coaching staff, a few new faces on the roster and they're sitting at 12-3, with the prospect of finishing seven games ahead of where they were last season.
On top of that, they need only to win Sunday's game against the lowly St. Louis Rams to secure the No. 2 seed, though it's not entirely required. The New Orleans Saints moved to 12-3 on Monday Night Football, soundly beating the Atlanta Falcons, and San Francisco holds a tiebreak. If the 49ers don't beat the Rams and the Saints also lose their game, then San Francisco would still hold the No. 2 seed.
That being said, you can't depend on Drew Brees and New Orleans losing a football game any week of the season. Though San Francisco likely had hoped to rest some starters on Sunday, it's likely that the usual guys will be in action. Players like Justin Smith, Carlos Rogers, Frank Gore and Patrick Willis could use a break (if Willis is even healthy enough to go), and it's very possible that Jim Harbaugh wanted to give Colin Kaepernick some playing time in lieu of Alex Smith.
For the Rams, they'd love to play spoiler, and that's really all this game could be at this point. They're lined up for one of the top picks in the draft, and there will be players and coaches trying to secure jobs next season, and that could mean beating the 49ers. Not a ton has changed since the last time these two teams met, when the 49ers thoroughly dominated.