NFL Playoff Projection: 49ers-Rams is the underrated game to settle the NFL playoff bracket

The San Francisco 49ers need an upset to make the playoffs.

The 49ers are underdogs at the Los Angeles Rams. The New Orleans Saints are favored to beat the Atlanta Falcons. If the 49ers lose and the Saints win, the Saints are the No. 7 seed in the NFC. The 49ers would be out.

That's just one of a few Week 18 playoff scenarios that needs to play out. There's not a ton of drama in the final week — Los Angeles Chargers at Las Vegas Raiders is the only game in which the result should directly impact if both teams make the playoffs — but there is some stuff that needs to be settled.

The 49ers are the team that could end up being the most surprising cut in the postseason field. They're 9-7 and have played very well for a couple months. But a loss at the Tennessee Titans a couple weeks ago could bite them. Conversely, the Saints' shocking shutout win at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers could end up being the biggest reason they make the playoffs. The only way the 49ers are guaranteed a spot is by beating the Rams.

The 49ers-Rams game has another twist: The Rams haven't clinched the NFC West. If they lose and the Cardinals win, Arizona would be the NFC West champs. It should be an interesting afternoon in Los Angeles.

(Yahoo Sports graphics by Michael Wagstaffe)
(Yahoo Sports graphics by Michael Wagstaffe)

Here are the games that most impact the playoff picture in the final week of the regular season:

Steelers at Ravens

This game needs to be mentioned because the loser is officially eliminated. The winner would still be alive but needing help. One game both teams will be tracking, which could end up turning the AFC playoff picture on its head ...

Colts at Jaguars

The Colts are huge favorites over the Jaguars. But if they lose, it opens up a spot. Way, way too much time has been spent on the odd possibility that if the Colts lose, the Raiders and Chargers both get in with a tie. No, those teams aren't going to kneel on the ball the whole night and take a 0-0 tie. But there's some chaos if the Colts lose. The Steelers, Ravens, Chargers and Raiders could be affected by that. The Colts are in the playoffs with a win.

Titans at Texans

Like the Colts game, if the status quo doesn't happen things will get shaken up. If the heavily favored Titans win, they're the No. 1 seed. If they lose, the Chiefs (who play at the Broncos on Saturday) and the Bengals (at the Browns) are alive for the top spot and the all-important bye.

Jets at Bills

Another scenario in which other teams are hoping for a heavily favored team to lose and create some chaos. The Bills win the AFC East with a victory over the Jets, and they should do that. But if they lose, the Patriots would be division champs if they beat the Dolphins, which might not be quite the pushover everyone expects.

Chargers at Raiders

There are other games that could matter in setting the bracket. The Cowboys could still move up to the NFC's No. 2 or 3 seed but would need to beat the Eagles on Saturday night and get help. The Cardinals are still alive for an NFC West title with a win over Seattle. The Buccaneers can end up as the No. 2, 3 or 4 seed in the NFC depending on what happens.

But the Sunday night game should be the play-in game of the final week. If the Colts win as expected, the Chargers and Raiders play with the winner going to the playoffs and the loser going home. That's drama. If the Colts lose, both teams could get in (the Raiders would be in with a Colts loss and a Steelers tie or loss regardless of whether they beat the Chargers). For the sake of having what amounts to our first playoff game of the year, let's hope the Colts win to set a winner-take-all Sunday night game. No offense to the fans in Pittsburgh or Baltimore.