Here is a link to my Sunday column previewing the game between the 49ers and Titans. The full text appears below:
When it comes to the 49ers, you need to take the long view.
Today, they’re in Nashville playing the 3-3 Titans, a middle-of-the-road team if there ever was one. The Titans (couldn’t they get an original name?) play good defense but don’t have much offense and are a joke at running the football. And while they have the usual on-any-given-Sunday chance to beat the 49ers, it’s not much of a chance.
Note to self: If the Tennessee Titans defeat the surging 49ers, the overwhelmingly more talented 49ers, that’s BIG news.
Back to article: So, what does this game in Nashville mean?
Conventional wisdom (don’t you just hate conventional wisdom?) would call this a “trap” game. A trap game occurs when a team and coaching staff of a superior team (i.e. the Niners) look past a nothing opponent (i.e. the Titans) to a really important massive thunderous game that looms. That’s the trap. They don’t pay attention to the business at hand and they get their helmets handed to them. Oops.
Here’s why the concept of trap game is baloney. No NFL coaching staff ever looks past the current game to a future game. Doesn’t happen. Each game is one-sixteenth of the season, a big chunk, and coaches know it.
It’s not like Jim Harbaugh said to offensive coordinator Greg Roman last Tuesday night, “You know what, GRo, these Titans suck. Forget all the game planning and looking at film and all the rigmarole we usually do. Let’s get pizzas for everyone, including our little pals from the media — I’m talking pizzas with everything on them — and we’ll listen to the Shirelles greatest hits and just generally screw off.”
And there’s something else. For a game to be a trap game, the next opponent must be a threat. Otherwise, you wouldn’t be looking past this week’s game to next week’s. If you consult the schedule, you’ll notice after Tennessee, the 49ers are traveling to London (why did the English never develop anything worth being called a cuisine?) to play those terrors, the 0-6 Jacksonville Jaguars, the worst team in the NFL, perhaps the worst team in the history of history. So, there is absolutely no trap today unless, while thinking about traveling all that way to England to slaughter the Jags, the Niners die of laughter.
OK, if today’s game isn’t a trap game, then what is it?
It’s a keep-pace game. Allow me to explain.
The Seattle Seahawks already played on Thursday night and won. Seattle’s record is 6-1, an excellent record. It happens to be the best record in the NFC West and it ratcheted up the pressure on the second-place 49ers. Keep that in mind.
The 49ers are 4-2 and their goal is simple. They need to take care of business week after week. In their case, taking care of business means beating the run-of-the-mill teams like Tennessee and the absolutely wretched teams like Jacksonville and the outstanding teams like the Saints (Nov. 17 in the Superdome). Taking care of business means doing this again and again so they stay in contention with the Seahawks.
What are the 49ers staying in contention for?
The 49ers are staying in contention for Sunday Dec. 8.
What’s the big deal about Dec. 8?
The Seahawks travel to Candlestick Park for a rematch with the 49ers. The Seahawks won the first game between them and the 49ers 29-3 on Sept. 15 in Seattle.
Here are two positive scenarios for the 49ers.
They come into the Dec. 8 showdown still one game behind the Seahawks — the same one game they would be behind the Seahawks if they win today. Except on Dec. 8 the 49ers will have those tough birds on the Niners’ turf, distinctly slower and wetter and heavier than what the Seahawks are used to. The Seahawks are not as good on the road — this is known. They are made for the fast artificial turf of CenturyLink Field, not to mention that mind-bending noise up there.
If the Niners win that game, the teams are tied and they go to the tie-breakers, if it comes to that.
The second scenario is even better for the 49ers. The Seahawks get knocked off somewhere on the road, say at Atlanta Nov. 10. It could happen. When they meet the Niners on Dec. 8, both teams have identical records. The 49ers beat them — it could happen — and gain ascendancy and cruise into the playoffs with a better record than their arch rival Seahawks.
Why is it essential for the 49ers to end the season with a better record than their arch rival Seahawks?
That’s simple. The 49ers do not, under any circumstances, want to play the Seahawks in the playoffs in Seattle. No way. The 49ers will not, cannot defeat the Seahawks in Seattle. Oh, let’s not be the-world-is-ending dramatic about this. Let’s just say the 49ers’ chances of beating the Seahawks in Seattle in the playoffs are slim. The 49ers want to play the Seahawks in the playoffs in maligned, about-to-be-demolished old Candlestick Park.
So, the 49ers need to keep pace. The 49ers need to take care of business in these apparently easy games, meaningless games in the soft part of the season. The 49ers need to do it today in Nashville and next week in London. The 49ers need to stay close so the Seahawks feel the Niners’ breath on the back of their necks, so the Seahawks feel the pressure and know the Niners are insistent, are relentless, aren’t going away.
So the Seahawks know, although Dec. 8 isn’t here yet, it’s coming.
For more on the world of sports in general and the Bay Area in particular, go to the Cohn Zohn at cohn.blogs.pressdemocrat.com. You can reach Staff Columnist Lowell Cohn at email@example.com.