Niners' playoff hopes in jeopardy

Offensive woes proving costly in tight NFC playoff race

Updated: November 18, 2013, 8:30 PM ET
By Matt Williamson | ESPN Insider

NinersCary Edmondson/USA TODAY SportsThe Niners offense has slipped this season.

After losing a tight game at home to the Carolina Panthers last week in which they only scored nine points, the San Francisco 49ers lost 23-20 at the New Orleans Saints on Sunday. On the surface, that doesn't seem overly disturbing. The Saints are undefeated at home and there is no doubt that New Orleans is one of the most difficult venues to visit in the league.

But in a game that had a playoff feel to it, the 49ers' passing game once again failed to show up. With little threat through the air, San Francisco has too little room for error against high-quality opponents. Can this passing game improve in time?

That fact is that it will need to, as the Seattle Seahawks steamrolled the Minnesota Vikings, giving Seattle a three-game lead in the NFC West. And by the way, a second-place finish by the Niners in this division is far from a sure thing. The Arizona Cardinals are now tied with San Francisco at 6-4. It seems highly unlikely that a wild-card team emerges from the NFC East, but between the Saints, Panthers, Bears, Packers, Lions and Cardinals, getting a wild card berth will not come easy in this conference.