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Why Whitner believes 49ers' Super Bowl chances rely on Armstead

Why Whitner believes 49ers' Super Bowl chances rely on Armstead originally appeared on NBC Sports Bay Area

The 49ers' quest for a sixth Super Bowl victory took a step forward after they clinched the NFC's No. 1 playoff seed on Sunday.

On top of San Francisco earning a first-round bye and home-field advantage throughout the postseason, NBC Sports Bay Area's Donte Whitner believes something else -- or someone -- will give the 49ers a boost needed to reach Super Bowl LVIII.

"There's one player for the 49ers that's key for the 49ers capturing that Lombardi Trophy," Whitner said on the latest "Hitner's Hot Take." "It's not Brock Purdy. It's not Christian McCaffrey. Not Brandon Aiyuk or Deebo Samuel. Not even Trent Williams. Not Fred Warner. It's none of the secondary players. For me, it's Arik Armstead."

Armstead missed his fourth straight game Sunday due to plantar fasciitis in his foot. The defensive tackle hasn't practiced since Week 13 prep, and his status for next Sunday's season finale versus the Los Angeles Rams is in question as well, although 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said it's unlikely he will suit up for the final game of the regular season.

The 30-year-old was in the middle of a bounce-back season before getting injured, picking up 27 combined tackles, five sacks and 13 quarterback hits in 12 games.

San Francisco signed Sebastian Joseph-Day to a contract last week to help with the team's defensive line depth in Armstead's absence, but Whitner believes there's no replacing the nine-year vet.

"In the past four weeks since Arik Armstead has been out, there's been a huge hole in the middle of the 49ers' defense," Whitner said. "If you can think of it like this, it's like a puzzle. With Arik Armstead being disruptive versus other teams, having the length to get on and off of blocks and disregard offensive linemen, he allows for Fred Warner and Dre Greenlaw to play seamlessly smooth.

"So if the 49ers can get Arik Armstead healthy over the next five weeks, it's almost guaranteed that they will be bringing the Lombardi Trophy back to San Francisco."

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