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Here comes another train, and it's a big one for 49ers

By Mark Purdy, San Jose Mercury News Published: December 18, 2012

Hey, math doesn't lie. The last 10 Super Bowls featured 20 teams. Thirteen of those 20 got there after earning first-week byes.

The 49ers currently are seeded second in the NFC, with Green Bay just half a game behind and pressing. A loss by the 49ers at Seattle on Sunday, combined with a likely Packers victory over Tennessee, would put the Packers in the second spot heading into the season's final week.

Thus, the Seattle showdown, which is conveniently scheduled two days after the Mayan forecasters are predicting Armageddon. The 49ers have showed us much good stuff over the past two seasons. But asking them, just seven days later, to ramp up again on the road and hit the same intensity level they attained in New England ... it's no given.

”This game will be the same, I really believe that,“ Harbaugh said, acknowledging that the Patriots game was a draining experience and that he might take it into account by dialing back some of the practice physicality this week.

”I think it's something to take a look at and probably implement,“ Harbaugh said.

For at least one key player, there won't be a choice. Justin Smith, who is both the Washington Monument and Lincoln monument of the 49ers' defensive line, sustained an arm injury at New England that makes his status uncertain for Seattle. Harbaugh conceded that when Smith left the game in the second half, it affected the defense's ability to thwart the Patriots' 28-point comeback.

If Smith can't play against the Seahawks, his leadership will be missed as much as his football skills.

On offense, it would be nice to see Mario Manningham back in the lineup at wide receiver. But he also is iffy. Heck, every 49er is probably sore somewhere. It is why getting that extra week off in the playoff tournament can be so crucial.

Could the 49ers still reach the Super Bowl as a third or fourth seed? Sure. The New York Giants did it as a sixth seed last year. If a team from a wild-card round reaches the game, it often performs well. Probably, that's because of the traditional extra week between the conference title games and the Super Bowl. It puts the two competing teams on more equal footing.

Still, forever and always, getting to the Super Bowl is the hardest part. And it is much easier with a first-round bye. Any serious 49ers historian should knows this. Remember the franchise's five Super Bowl champions from back in the day? Remember how many of those teams reached the game without a bye in the wild-card round?

The correct answer is none. All five avoided it. Winning in Seattle might be technically optional. For a genuine Super Bowl candidate, it is all but compulsory. And bigger than New England.

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