Christian McCaffrey

CMC could benefit most from rest in Week 18 vs. Rams

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LANDOVER, Md. — Coach Kyle Shanahan will not be able to rest every player who could use a break at this point in the season.

But the fact 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 following the 49ers’ 27-10 victory over the Washington Commanders.

“These last couple weeks, we’ve been a little banged up. There’ve been a couple positions where we’re real thin at. Guys had to push through at a number of spots. The guys who’ve been doing that, hopefully, this will help them out.”

Running back Christian McCaffrey likely is at the top of the list of players who can use the next three weeks to refresh.

McCaffrey sustained a right calf strain in the third quarter on Sunday.

“I’m not sure what happened,” he said. “It was pretty minor. I was having a hard time pushing off. And just for precautionary reasons, it’d be better to just rest it.

“I will always play if I can. I think it was minor and just made the smart move, especially not knowing what was going to happen next week. I didn’t want to go in there and make it any worse.”

Backup Elijah Mitchell took over with McCaffrey sidelined and ended up gaining a game-high 80 yards and a touchdown on 17 rushing attempts.

“We think he’ll be all right,” Shanahan said of McCaffrey. “I don’t know if he’d be able to go next week or not but we’ll have to find out more tomorrow.

“He was moving around all right on the sideline. We’re hoping it’s not too bad, but we’ll know more tomorrow.”

The 49ers have worked McCaffrey hard 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 touchdowns rushing and seven more scoring catches.

San Francisco's victory, coupled with Week-17 losses by the Detroit Lions and Philadelphia Eagles, means the 49ers have clinched the No. 1 seed with a 12-4 record.

The 49ers close out the regular season next weekend at Levi’s Stadium against the Los Angeles Rams, who are in line to be the No. 6 seed in the NFC.

San Francisco's first playoff game will take place either Saturday, Jan. 20, or Sunday, Jan.  21.

With their playoff seeding locked in at No. 1, Shanahan faces the challenge of how to approach the game against the Rams.

The 49ers only have so many options from which to choose on their 53-man roster. The team can elevate a maximum of two players from their practice squad to fill spots on their 48-man game-day roster.

“We’ll definitely try to rest some guys,” Shanahan said, “but you can’t rest everybody. It’s too hard. You don’t have enough players.”

The 49ers held out five injured players from their game on Sunday against the Commanders, including defensive lineman Arik Armstead, safety Ji’Ayir Brown and receiver Jauan Jennings.

In addition to McCaffrey, the 49ers likely will consider limiting the playing time of many of their top-line 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 get better at, and the only way you do that is by playing football and practicing football.”

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