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49ers aim to improve playoff stock in renewal of rivalry with Raiders

Dec 24, 2022; Santa Clara, California, USA;  San Francisco 49ers tight end George Kittle (85) celebrates during the fourth quarter against the Washington Commanders at Levi's Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

Longtime geographic rivals San Francisco and Las Vegas take long shots to the starting gate Sunday afternoon when they meet in Nevada for the first time since the Raiders left Oakland, California, following the 2019 season.

The teams, formerly separated simply by the San Francisco Bay Bridge, will be meeting for the 15th time, with the 49ers having won five of the last seven matchups after the Raiders took five of the first seven.

Each team enters Week 17 at a different end of the playoff ladder.

The 49ers (11-4), who on Oct. 23 were just 3-4, have won eight in a row to clinch the NFC West title and no worse than the No. 3 seed in the NFC playoffs.

They could move up a spot simply by winning their final two games over the Raiders and Arizona Cardinals, if the Minnesota Vikings were to lose to either the Green Bay Packers or Chicago Bears.

While the possibility of the 49ers moving up to No. 2 appears realistic, the chances of them passing the Philadelphia Eagles for the No. 1 spot — and a first-round bye — border on incomprehensible. In order for that to happen, the 49ers would have to sweep their remaining two games, while the Eagles — who have lost just twice all season — lose to both the New Orleans Saints and New York Giants.

Star 49ers offensive tackle Trent Williams clearly has been keeping an eye on the standings and knows his math.

“Depending on what happens with the two in front of us, No. 1 seed still isn’t out of the picture,” he optimistically reported. “To get into the playoffs, that’s just the broad goal. Everybody wants to get there. But once you get there, the job isn’t finished. Now you want to get as many home games as possible, first-round bye if possible, and I think all of that is well within reach. So we do have something to play for.”

The 49ers have not lost since Brock Purdy replaced injured Jimmy Garoppolo as the starting quarterback in Week 14. With the rookie throwing six touchdown passes and just one interception in three starts, the 49ers have beaten the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Seattle Seahawks and Washington Commanders — all playoff hopefuls — by a combined score of 93-40.

Purdy won’t be the only young quarterback under scrutiny on Sunday with the news this week that the Raiders have demoted longtime starter Derek Carr. Jarrett Stidham, who has 11 games of NFL experience but no previous starts, will replace Carr.

“This is more about an opportunity to see a guy that we haven’t seen play in a situation like this against a couple of good teams, really good teams,” Raiders coach Josh McDaniels explained. “There’s a lot of evaluating that’s going to take place here once the season’s over. … There’s no finality to today. This is just a decision we thought … would be an opportunity for us to see what we have in (Stidham).”

The move comes with the Raiders (6-9) hanging on by a thread in the AFC playoff race. Las Vegas would need to sweep the 49ers and Kansas City Chiefs in their final two games and get a lot of help in order to sneak into the postseason.

Carr, who has been given permission to stay away from the team indefinitely, finishes his season with 3,522 passing yards, a 60.8-percent completion rate and a 24-14 touchdown-to-interception ratio.

–Field Level Media