LANDOVER, Md. — Coach Kyle Shanahan won't be able to rest every player who could use a break at this point in the season.
But the fact that the 49ers on Sunday clinched the NFC's top playoff seed with one game remaining in the regular season is exactly what the doctor ordered.
“It's huge,” Shanahan said after the 49ers' 27-10 win over the Washington Chiefs.
“In the last few weeks, we've been a little bit stressed. There have been a couple of positions where we've been very thin. Guys have had to push in a number of positions. People who have been doing that, hopefully this will help them.”
Running back Christian McCaffrey is likely at the top of the list of players who could use the next three weeks to upgrade.
McCaffrey strained his right calf in the third quarter on Sunday.
“I'm not sure what happened,” he said. It was very simple. I was having trouble paying. For precautionary reasons only, it would be best to rest him.
“I'll always play if I can. I think it was simple and I just made the smart move, especially not knowing what was going to happen next week. I didn't want to go there and make it worse.
Backup Elijah Mitchell took over with McCaffrey sidelined and ended up getting a game-high 80 yards and a touchdown on 17 rushing attempts.
“We think he's going to be OK,” Shanahan said of McCaffrey. “I don't know if he'll be able to go next week or not, but we'll have to find out more tomorrow.
“He was moving well on the sidelines. Hopefully it won't be too bad, but we'll know more tomorrow.”
The 49ers have worked hard on McCaffrey this season. He leads the NFL with 1,459 yards rushing on 272 carries. He also has 67 receptions for 564 yards. McCaffrey has 14 rushing touchdowns and seven more.
San Francisco's victory, coupled with Week 17 losses to the Detroit Lions and Philadelphia Eagles, means the 49ers have clinched the top seed with a 12-4 record.
The 49ers wrap up the regular season next weekend at Levi's Stadium against the Los Angeles Rams, who are slated to be the No. 6 seed in the NFC.
The first playoff game will be held in San Francisco on either Saturday, January 20th or Sunday, January 21st.
With the playoff seed still at No. 1, Shanahan faces the challenge of how to approach the matchup against the Rams.
The 49ers only have so many options to choose from on the 53-man roster. A team can raise a maximum of players from its practice squad to fill spots on its 48-man game-day roster.
“We'll definitely try to rest some players, but you can't rest everyone. It's very difficult. You don't have enough players,” Shanahan said.
The 49ers held five injured players out of their game Sunday against the Commanders, including defensive lineman Arik Armstead, safety J'Ayer Brown and receiver Juwan Jennings.
In addition to McCaffrey, the 49ers will likely consider limiting playing time to several of their marquee players, such as Brock Purdy, Trent Williams, George Kittle, Deebo Samuel, Brandon Aiyuk, Nick Bosa, Javon Hargrave, and Nick Bosa.
Shanahan said those decisions will be made after the club practices on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday to face the Rams.
“We're going to have a big week of practice,” Shanahan said. “I still think there are a lot of things we can improve, and the only way to do that is to play football and practice football.”
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