Kyle Shanahan

Shanahan weighing rest vs. rust decision ahead of 49ers' playoff bye

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The 49ers did their job last weekend and were rewarded with the NFC's No. 1 playoff seed.

However, even after earning that position (which comes with a first-round playoff bye), 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan still has important decisions to make ahead of Sunday's regular-season finale against the Los Angeles Rams at Levi's Stadium.

Locking up the top seed allows the 49ers to rest key starters, including running back Christian McCaffrey, who sustained a mild right calf strain during last week's 27-10 win over the Washington Commanders, for two consecutive weeks before the first playoff matchup.

But is there such a thing as too much rest for a 49ers team looking to maintain its momentum entering the playoffs? In speaking to reporters on a conference call Monday, Shanahan was asked about the "rest versus rust" debate and how he will approach roster decisions ahead of the Week 18 game.

“I think it can be tough, but it's not just playing, it's how much you practice and everything, too," Shanahan said. "You’ve got to make sure that you prepare for games by practicing. We’ve got a game this week on Sunday. When you give guys the game off, practice changes, too. That can end up hurting guys a lot, and you end up just developing bad habits. I've seen it cost a lot of teams.

"Also, it does give some guys a chance to get healthy. When you do that and you sit people, then some of the names you guys mentioned, but then other people, have got to double up and do a lot more because you only get two guys off a practice squad also. ... You rest players, and that sometimes gets more players injured. That's all that stuff you’ve got to balance out, and that's why there's not a clear-cut decision on anything. You’ve got to look at each individual, in each situation and play it out as the week goes.”

When asked if the 49ers were ready to rule out certain players for Sunday's game, Shanahan shared decisions haven't been made yet and that there won't be as many official inactives because San Francisco still must dress 48 players on game day.

Despite the debate surrounding the potential advantages and disadvantages of having a first-round bye, Shanahan undoubtedly views it as an important advantage, given the recent history of top seeds representing their respective conferences in the Super Bowl.

“Yes, I do. Every game in the NFL is so hard," Shanahan said. "It's just being at home is a big deal, but also if you can win that first one, only being one away from the big one. That’s why I think the percentages since the [No.] 1 and 2 seeds, I think, always have been like 75 percent are the teams. I think that's always been because those guys always got the first bye. I think that changed last year when just the [No.] 1 seeds got them.”

So, a mix of 49ers starters and reserves will close the 2023 regular season Sunday against the Rams before a much-needed week off leading up to a pivotal divisional-round playoff game on either Jan. 20 or Jan. 21 at Levi's Stadium.

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