49ers ranked No. 1 among NFC playoff contenders, former NFL exec says

Brian Witt
NBC Sports BayArea

The 49ers are the last remaining undefeated team in the NFC. They did what they were supposed to, taking advantage of the early portion of the season schedule, which was considerably less challenging than what the latter stages of it will bring.

San Francisco is one of 10 NFC teams with at least three wins. Then there's also the Lions, sitting just behind that group at 2-1-1.

Surely, as the season wears on, the group contending for the six playoff spots in the conference will thin out a bit. Critical injuries are certain to occur, and some quick starts surely are fool's gold. Still, though, that's a crowded field, and each of those 11 teams has a legitimate chance to qualify for the postseason.

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The Athletic's Michael Lombardi previously has served as an executive for numerous NFL teams, including the 49ers, Browns, Eagles, Raiders and Patriots. He has seen a lot of playoff football, and recently he set out to rank the 11 NFC contenders based on the first five weeks of play.

And let's just say, he's a believer in San Francisco.

Lombardi ranked the 49ers first overall among the 11 NFC contenders, while the Eagles, Saints, Packers, Seahawks and Cowboys rounded out the top six. 

"The 49ers have everything I love about a team -- a strong defensive line, with depth that can rush the passer, along with an offense that scores early," Lombardi wrote. "The 49ers also currently rank 2nd in offensive rushes and completions, with 58.3 per game (anything over 51 is excellent) and defensive rushes and completions allowed, with just 38.5 (anything below 46 is great.)"

Everyone is going to have their own version of the rankings, but there's certainly evidence to support Lombardi's assertion. Consider this: The 49ers have outscored their opponents by 70 points so far this season, whereas the Eagles and Cowboys are a combined plus-71. The four NFC North teams area a combined plus-85, and the Saints ... they're a minus-1.

San Francisco will face five of the 10 other NFC contenders throughout the remainder of the regular season, including two matchups with each of the Rams and Seahawks. The first of those meetings with Los Angeles comes this Sunday in Week 6, and Lombardi believes it will be a significant challenge for the 49ers, particularly due to some of the injuries that have occurred.

"This week they'll be playing without both starting tackles, Joe Staley and Mike McGlinchey," he wrote, "and so their overall depth on the O-line will be tested against a good Rams front (albeit one missing Clay Matthews.)"

[RELATED: Kittle questionable for NFC West clash between 49ers, Rams]

Sunday will be the first of many crucial NFC contender matchups for San Francisco over the next 12 weeks. But if they beat the Rams, the bandwagon is only going to get more crowded.

49ers ranked No. 1 among NFC playoff contenders, former NFL exec says originally appeared on NBC Sports Bay Area

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