49ers Mailbag: Rest comes with playoff bye

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49ers Mailbag: Rest comes with playoff bye

The 49ers have clinched the NFC West, but that is not good enough.In order for the 49ers to have a reasonable chance to make a playoff run, they also have to clinch a first-round bye in the playoffs. That's why the 49ers can't afford to slow down in the regular season until they accomplish that goal.
Linebacker Patrick Willis is not expected to play Sunday against the Arizona Cardinals due to a right hamstring strain. But all other healthy 49ers players must be ready to go for the remainder of the regular season.
With an eye on the playoffs, we open today's 49ers Mailbag . . . Q: How will the Niners treat their starters the rest of the way? Full go or rest them? @aharris916
My response: The 49ers can't afford to rest anyone who might be able to help them win football games. The difference between finishing second and third in the NFC could make a huge difference during the playoffs.That is why the 49ers must play their best players until, at least, they have clinched the No. 2 seed in the NFC behind the Green Bay Packers.
If the 49ers finish with the No. 2 seed, they'll be able to rest their starters during the wild-card round of the playoffs. That's because the top two seeds in each conference is assured a first-round bye. That's the rest the 49ers are eyeing at this point.If the 49ers finish with the No. 2 seed, they can spend two weeks to get ready for a potential divisional playoff game against the New Orleans Saints at Candlestick.If the 49ers are the third seed, they would not get any break. They'd have to beat a wild-card team at Candlestick for the right to play the Saints at New Orleans. And that's a tall order. Q: If Saints win out and 49ers win out (except for Pitt), who gets the bye? @Arkhams_Razor
My response: If the 49ers and Saints finish with the same record, the 49ers would win any tie-breaker. That's because the 49ers would have a better conference record than the Saints.With four games remaining, the 49ers essentially have a two-game lead over the Saints for the No. 2 seed. Any combination of three 49ers victories and Saints defeats clinches the No. 2 seed for the 49ers.And, then, maybe they can talk about resting some of their players.

Cam Newton benched to start game vs Seahawks for breaking dress code

Cam Newton benched to start game vs Seahawks for breaking dress code

SEATTLE — A missing necktie led to Carolina quarterback Cam Newton getting benched for one series on Sunday night.

Ron Rivera didn't expect it to last just one play.

Carolina's miserable night was capped by a 40-7 loss to Seattle following the most awkward of starts. With Newton being punished for not having a necktie for the team flight to Seattle, the Panthers' starting QB watched backup Derek Anderson throw an interception on the first play of the game.

The turnover only led to a field goal for Seattle, but it was the start of an otherwise forgettable performance by the Panthers that provided another blow to the dwindling playoff hopes of the reigning NFC champions.

Newton missed just one play, but was also just 14-of-32 passing for 182 yards and one touchdown. After pulling within 10-7 in the second quarter, Carolina let Seattle score the final 30 points.

Seahawks lose Thomas, but run all over Panthers in Seattle

Seahawks lose Thomas, but run all over Panthers in Seattle

BOX SCORE

SEATTLE -- Thomas Rawls ran for 103 yards and two touchdowns in the first half, Tyler Lockett took a reverse 75 yards for a score to open the second half and the Seattle Seahawks routed the Carolina Panthers 40-7 on Sunday night.

Another prime-time game in Seattle was clouded with odd story lines right from the outset when Carolina quarterback Cam Newton was benched for the first play, only to watch backup Derek Anderson throw an interception . It was the start of miserable night for Carolina (4-8) and a laugher that moved Seattle (8-3-1) one step closer to the NFC West title.

Rawls and the run game set the tone for Seattle, gashing the second-best run defense in the NFL for 240 yards. Carolina entered the week giving up less than 80 yards per game on the ground.

Rawls finished with 106 yards on 15 carries, quiet in the second half after briefly being checked for a concussion. He was just the second 100-yard rusher for a run game that has lagged most of the season. Rawls' 8-yard run gave Seattle an early 10-0 lead and his 45-yard sprint early in the second quarter pushed it to 17-7.

Russell Wilson was 26 of 36 for 277 yards and a 1-yard scoring pass to Jimmy Graham in the fourth quarter. The Seahawks rolled up a season-high 534 yards and kept a three-game lead over Arizona in the division with four remaining.

Seattle safety Earl Thomas broke a bone in his lower left leg during a first-half collision with teammate Kam Chancellor while trying to intercept Newton's pass. Thomas hobbled off the field putting no weight on the leg and X-rays revealed a "cracked tibia," coach Pete Carroll told Seattle's radio broadcast.

On the play after Thomas' injury, Newton hit Ted Ginn Jr. on a 55-yard touchdown pass to pull the Panthers to 10-7. It would be the only highlight for Carolina.

Rawls immediately answered, darting through the Carolina defense for the 45-yard touchdown run and a 17-7 lead. Steven Hauschka added two more field goals before halftime and Lockett raced 75 yards on a reverse on the first play of the second half. In less than 10 minutes of game time, Seattle extended the lead to 30-7.

Newton's benching was for a dress code violation, according to the NBC broadcast and the single play he missed could not have gone worse. Anderson rolled out to throw a pass to Mike Tolbert. It bounced off Tolbert's hands and into the arms of Mike Morgan, a disastrous result for that only added to questions about coach Ron Rivera's intention with the punishment.

Newton finished 14 of 32 for 182 yards.

LOPSIDED RESULT

It was seventh meeting in the past five years between the Seahawks and Panthers, playoffs included. It was the first time of the seven the game was decided by more than 14 points. Five of the previous six were decided by seven points or less. The biggest win during the stretch was Seattle's 31-17 win in the 2014 playoffs.

BATTERED PANTHERS

Carolina's injury list grew again.

The Panthers were already without starters Kurt Coleman and Luke Kuechly (concussions), and defensive end Mario Addison (foot) on defense, and right tackle Daryl Williams (ankle) on offense. Carolina then lost cornerback Daryl Worley and linebacker David Mayo to concussions against the Seahawks.

THOMAS TWEETS

One of the most emotional players on Seattle's roster, Thomas hinted at retirement in a tweet sent just before halftime.

"This game has been so good to me no regrets. A lot is running through my mind including retirement thanks for all the prayers," Thomas tweeted from the Seattle locker room.

Thomas missed the first game of his career last week at Tampa Bay due to a hamstring injury.

UP NEXT

Panthers: Carolina returns home and hosts San Diego.

Seahawks: Seattle travels to Green Bay.