SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Frank Gore planned to openly cheer for the Falcons on Monday night against New Orleans. Coach Jim Harbaugh and the rest of the San Francisco 49ers? You bet they had the same idea.

A loss by the Saints would wrap up the NFC's No. 2 seed and a first-round bye for Gore and the NFC West champion Niners (12-3) and take the pressure off Sunday's season finale at St. Louis. San Francisco has put itself in about the best possible position heading into the franchise's first playoff appearance in nine years. The 49ers pulled off an impressive 19-17 victory at Seattle on Saturday behind David Akers' four field goals.

Still, Harbaugh's motto was "hope for the best and expect the worst" when it came to getting help from Atlanta.