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SANTA CLARA — Presuming all the “air mail” got lost among all the grounded flights, this week’s 49ers’ mailbag got filled through my Instagram and Twitter P.O. Boxes:
Are the Niners still in play for the No. 1 seed? (@paulmateo707)
Their long-shot chances seem to improve by the day, seeing how the Philadelphia Eagles (13-2) lost on Sunday and must navigate injuries to quarterback Jalen Hurts, Pro Bowl tackle Lane Johnson and cornerback Avonte Maddox. The Eagles still must lose at home to both the Saints and the Giants, coupled with a Vikings’ loss at either the Packers or Bears, for the 49ers to climb to No. 1 from the No. 3 seed.
Does Brock Purdy make any bonus money for playing in the playoffs, and how much? (@bgarrido)
All 49ers, per the league’s bonus scale, get $50,500 for the wild-card and divisional rounds, $73,000 for making the conference championship, then comes the Super Bowl — or, the hereby named Supurdy Bowl. Winner of that gets a $164,000 bonus (plus a ring and ever-lasting fame) for a win, and the loser nets $89,000 (and infamy).
Jimmy Garoppolo has additional incentives if he surprisingly returns for the playoffs. Garoppolo can make $500,000 in each of the first three playoff games if he takes at least half the snaps in each one, plus $500,000 if the 49ers reach the Super Bowl, then $1 million more if they win that sixth Lombardi Trophy with him taking at least half the snaps Feb. 12 in Glendale, Arizona, per Mike Garafolo of NFL Network.
Is Deebo coming back to play the Raiders? (@andrewjimenez76)
Can he come back? Yes. Will he? Probably not. Coach Kyle Shanahan said Deebo Samuel “has made real good progress but is still working his way back,” two weeks after getting carted off with a sprained knee and ankle. He mingled with teammates and fans before Saturday’s win over Washington, then he appeared courtside with Purdy at the Warriors’ win on Christmas. Sunday’s game at the Raiders is not a must-win, and he hasn’t practiced in two weeks. My bet (it’s Vegas week, after all): He folds this hand, but he’s able to ante in for the regular-season finale against Arizona if the 49ers can move up from the No. 3 seed, especially to No. 1.
Is Fred Warner the best linebacker in the league? (@carter_brannon)
Fresh off making his second Pro Bowl, Warner posted a season-high 13 tackles, including fourth-down stops that buoyed Saturday’s win. He wouldn’t immediately call it his best game of the season, saying: “I have to go back and watch it. I go back and think of the plays I either missed or could have been better.” Other inside linebackers to make the Pro Bowl: Demario Davis (Saints), Roquan Smith (Ravens), C.J. Moseley (Jets). Warner’s biggest challenger for NFL’s best linebacker might be on his own team, Dre Greenlaw.
When do you expect Kinlaw to play? Also, any Jimmy sightings? (@dupree.lax.mom)
Kinlaw returned Saturday to play close to the maximum prescribed: 16 snaps (22 percent). I saw Garoppolo last Tuesday briefly roll up to his locker on a knee scooter, with his left foot in a sock, out of a hard cast, and presumably on the mend, “but no further update,” Shanahan said Monday.
Will Kalia Davis get a chance to play this year? Any news on Maurice Hurst and if we did activate him would he count against IR designation? (@matty__maff)
Neither will play this season. It was great to see Davis’ entry into an official practice last week and this initiation will help him for the offseason program. Hurst tore a biceps five months ago and went on injured reserve before the season, so he can’t magically reappear for the playoffs. The 49ers can only activate one more player off injured reserve, and that player is expected to be running back Elijah Mitchell over defensive tackle Hassan Ridgeway, and that would officially nix Trey Lance as a possibility.
The NFL just might rig a championship in SF’s favor, maybe? (@gils_island)
Why start now after a 27-year drought? If you want to craft a conspiracy theory, you’d want an underdog story (see: Purdy) combined with star personalities (see: Bosa, Kittle, Deebo) and the rekindling of a storied franchise, whose championships were won a generation ago. Thus, time to repopulate the 49ers brand with a new wave of fans.
Does every game plan change based on the opponent? (@danielle_ao)
The simple answer is yes, but there are layers to this. Offensively, Kyle Shanahan seeks to set up and exploit mismatches for explosive plays, which come in balanced fashion. The 49ers have 48 big pass plays (20 yards or more) and 50 big runs (10 yards or more); in 2019, they had 63 big pass plays and 60 big runs, only to flip that in the playoffs with 17 such runs and five big pass plays.
Defensively, DeMeco Ryans’ unit is stopping all rushing attacks. The pass coverage benefits from a four-man rush that isn’t reliant on a blitz help. Charvarius Ward shadow the opponents’ top receiver at times, a tactic the 49ers rarely employed with Robert Saleh as defensive coordinator.
Will Jimmy Garoppolo go to a great team next year? (@alexiapaterakis)
Yes, if he stays with the 49ers, and 2022 taught us never to dismiss that. But, for the sake of your presumption that he’s leaving, I can see him on the Miami Dolphins (to replace Tua Tagovailoa), the New England Patriots (to relieve Mac Jones) or the New York Jets (to unseat Zach Wilson). Two of those teams are coached by former 49ers coordinators (Robert Saleh with the Jets; Mike McDaniel with the Dolphins). DeMeco Ryans could be the next coordinator to land a head-coaching gig and perhaps want Garoppolo to come with him. Garoppolo, a 2014 Patriots draft pick, has more control than ever on where he goes; the 49ers can not use the franchise tag on him.
Who would be the best and worst first-round matchup? (@twnty2below)
The best-to-worst matchup mirrors how these five wild-card contenders look behind No. 5 seed Dallas, in descending order: the Giants (2-5-1 since 6-1 start), the Commanders (0-2-1 in December), the Seahawks (lost three straight, 4-of-5), the Lions (won 6-of-8), and, the 49ers’ familiar postseason cupcake, the Packers (won three straight).
Niner Invasion of Las Vegas, or nah? (cold95116)
Bet on red — in the stands, that is. The 49ers Faithful has shown up strong everywhere this season, starting in Chicago, then Denver, Carolina, Atlanta, Los Angeles (as usual), Mexico City (muchos fans), and, Seattle. (Memo to fans: Who’s got room in their carpool in case New Year’s pre-dawn flights get canceled?)
49ers mailbag: How Purdy and even Garoppolo can profit from playoff run
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