SANTA CLARA — Kyle Shanahan isn’t a big believer in resting players too much going into the playoffs even though the 49ers were the first team to stake their postseason claim.

Shanahan thinks teams that do that run the risk of not being sharp when “the tournament” begins.

And the 49ers’ players aren’t all that excited about taking snaps off either.

“I hope guys aren’t asking for plays off,” tight end George Kittle said Wednesday. “Maybe if we’re winning by 25 in the fourth quarter, sure. But I hope we’re pedal to the medal and out there trying to win football games.”

At the same time, it’s imperative that the 49ers (10-4) get a number of their players through their final three games healthy enough to be full-go the weekend of Jan. 14 for a home game against an opponent to be determined at Levi’s Stadium.

The 49ers host the Washington Commanders (7-6-1) Saturday at Levi’s Stadium, and conclude the regular season with a road game against the Las Vegas Raiders on Jan. 1 and finish up at home against the Arizona Cardinals.

Even if Jalen Hurts doesn’t play with a shoulder injury, the Eagles (12-1) aren’t likely to lose at Dallas and at home to both New Orleans and the New York Giants to give the 49ers a shot at the top seed and a first-round bye should they win out.

Getting to No. 2 is another matter, with Minnesota (11-3) looking vulnerable enough to lose at least once against the Giants, at Green Bay and at Chicago. But that still won’t get the 49ers a bye.

But the difference between No. 2 and No. 3 isn’t a big enough deal to sell out completely over the last three games in terms of utilization of personnel.

The 49ers are expecting wide receiver Deebo Samuel and running back Elijah Mitchell back. Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo remains on the roster, possibly as a life preserver in case they needed someone in place of Brock Purdy in the Super Bowl.

With that in mind, a subjective ranking of 10 players the 49ers cannot afford to lose before chasing Super Bowl LVII:

1. QB Brock Purdy: Hard to believe, isn’t it? The final pick in the draft is Mr. Indispensable because he plays the most important position in professional sports and has shown an ability to manage the 49ers through the Trey Lance-Garoppolo crisis. Maybe Purdy can’t do it, but there’s a reason Josh Johnson has played with so many teams.

2. DE Nick Bosa: He is the closer the 49ers need a postseason run, and if that means playing fewer snaps over the next three weeks and missed opportunities to add to his league-leading total of 15 1/2 sacks, so be it.

3. RB Christian McCaffrey: If Samuel and Mitchell come back at something close to 100 percent, it lessens McCaffrey’s importance slightly. But let’s face it, the 49ers wouldn’t be a realistic Super Bowl contender without the Oct. 20 trade that brought McCaffrey from Carolina. Second, third- and fourth-round draft picks next year and a fifth the following year seems like a bargain in a win-now mode.

4. TE George Kittle: The physicality of Kittle is essential to the 49ers’ identity. And it appears that Kittle has become a security blanket of sorts for Purdy. As good as Kittle is as a blocker, it seems to pick up both sides of the ball when he’s breaking tackles as a receiver.

5. LT Trent Williams: The anchor of the 49ers’ offensive line, and possibly the best player at his position in the NFL, Williams played hurt last season in the playoffs and was still pretty good. They’d rather have him at full strength this time around.

San Francisco 49ers' Jimmie Ward (1) gestures while playing the Los Angeles Chargers in the fourth quarter of their NFL game at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif., on Sunday, Nov. 13, 2022. The San Francisco 49ers defeated the Los Angeles Chargers 22-16. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group)
49ers nickel back Jimmie Ward has been a major factor on defense since moving from free safety to slot corner. Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group

6. DT Arik Armstead: Armstead has been back for three games and has been so good it’s amazing the 49ers won four straight games without him. Armstead pushes the pocket in the middle and it causes a ripple effect across the defensive line and only enhances Bosa’s charge from the edge.

7. NB Jimmie Ward: Ward fancies himself a safety and he’s a good one — probably better than either of the 49ers’ starters in Pro Bowl strong safety Talanoa Hufanga and free safety Tashaun Gipson. But Ward has been playing extremely well of late and Shanahan believes Ward gets more chances to to make plays as a slot corner than as a safety.


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