The San Francisco 49ers will have to play this season out to its end, at least if they want a first round bye in the 2012 NFL Playoffs. First, they had their hopes at a potential No. 1 seed extinguished on Sunday Night Football, when Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers locked it up by beating the tar out of [insert any team in the NFL not from Kansas City here]. Then on Monday Night Football, Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints abused the Atlanta Falcons from start to finish.
That brought the Saints to match the 49ers at 12-3, and it means San Francisco will have to complete a sweep of the St. Louis Rams to maintain the No. 2 seed, a first-round bye and home-field advantage unless a match against Green Bay happens. San Francisco holds the tiebreak over New Orleans and there's no way that can change in Week 17, so it's a pretty simple thing for San Francisco: win and they get the No. 2 seed.
It likely changes a lot of how San Francisco was going to approach the game. Had New Orleans lost, it's likely that Alex Smith would have either not played or been taken out of the game early. Frank Gore probably would have rested, along with several defensive players such as Carlos Rogers and Justin Smith.
New Orleans will take on the Carolina Panthers in Week 17. Judging by the way Drew Brees efficiently destroyed the Falcons on Monday, it will be very tough for Cam Newton to lead the Panthers to a win. The Saints just seem near unstoppable right now. San Francisco will likely need to beat the Rams to lock up a bye week. That being said, they might get to rest some starters anyway.
Because, you know, it's the Rams.