SANTA CLARA -- Thanks to their past two painful postseason departures, the 49ers know all about the practical NFL playoff-survival shortlist.

You want to win a Super Bowl? You need to be healthy, you need your quarterback playing his best, and you need a defense that can hold up against the greatest offenses.

Everything else -- including a high seed for home-field advantage -- is secondary, as the 49ers have learned.

That's why inside linebacker NaVorro Bowman was bubbling with optimism about their late-season charge -- into their penultimate regular-season game against Atlanta on Monday and potentially far beyond.

Not necessarily as a championship favorite this time, but as a potential lower seed peaking at the right time.

"We're healthy, everyone's smiling, feeling good," Bowman said late last week. "You know, we can make a run at this thing. I think everything's happening for us right now at the right time."

Yes, presuming Seattle bounces back from its home loss to Arizona and clinches the NFC West with a victory over St. Louis, the 49ers still would be on track for the NFC's fifth seed and the possibility of multiple road games in the playoffs.

But the 49ers were the NFC's No. 2 seed in the past two postseasons and were eliminated by lower-seeded teams that won the Super Bowl with hotter quarterbacks, healthier lineups and poorer records.

Byes and home-field advantage didn't matter much. Getting hot and healthy at the right time meant everything.

On Sunday, Arizona showed that Seattle can be beaten at CenturyLink Field, and the Seahawks loss also kept the 49ers alive in the NFC West.

But for the 49ers to win the division and grab a top-two seed, they would have to win their final two games and the Seahawks would have to lose their season finale. Otherwise, the Seahawks win the West and the top seed.

One odd stat: AFC and NFC No. 1 seeds are 3-6 in the previous three postseasons, and none has won the Super Bowl.

Meanwhile, the past three titles have been captured by a 6 (Green Bay three years ago) and two 4s (the New York Giants two years ago and Baltimore last year).

Here are a few reasons the 49ers could be ready for a title chase, no matter their seeding:

  • With two games left, the 49ers are healthier than they were at this point in 2012.

    Last year, defensive stalwarts Aldon Smith and Justin Smith were nursing injuries that limited them -- and the defense -- throughout the postseason.

    This year, every major defensive piece is reported to be healthy, and the 49ers defense is at top form.

  • Quarterback Colin Kaepernick, after some early-season struggles, is playing with more confidence -- and probably is healthier -- than at any other point this season.

    While helping to lead the 49ers to four victories in a row, Kaepernick has thrown seven touchdown passes and only one interception, while running 26 times for 114 yards.

  • This season, trade acquisition Anquan Boldin (70 catches, five touchdowns) is the receiver starting alongside Michael Crabtree going into January, not Randy Moss or Ted Ginn Jr. (who combined for 30 catches and three touchdowns last season).

    Also, Crabtree is back with fresh legs after missing the first 11 games this season because of offseason Achilles surgery.

    The 49ers have suffered some losses on offense -- fullback Bruce Miller is out for the year and guard Mike Iupati has been sidelined recently -- but in general, the offense is as strong as it has been all season.

    "I think it's all timing. I think we're hitting the right spot at the right time," tailback Frank Gore said. "Crab (is) getting better. Vernon (Davis) ... Anquan's doing a great job. Me, O-line, Kap running and throwing.

    "We just want to get in the tournament. When you look at it, the last two years a (team in the wild-card round) won the Super Bowl. We just want to get in there and do what we do."

  • Phil Dawson is an enormous upgrade at kicker over David Akers.

    Remember, last season Akers missed seven field-goal tries in the final six regular-season games (11 for 18) and then missed one in the NFC Championship game.

    Dawson has missed only three tries this season and is 24 for 24 over the past 10 games, including 11 from 40 yards or longer.

    So that's not a bad list of late-December positives for the 49ers, who have been through some things this season, and now it's time to keep building the momentum.

    Ask the Seahawks about the momentum now. It's fickle, and if the 49ers play it right, they could have a lot of it heading into January.

    Read Tim Kawakami's Talking Points blog at blogs.mercurynews.com/kawakami. Contact him at tkawakami@mercurynews.com.

    MONDAY'S GAME
    Atlanta (4-10) at 49ers (10-4), 5:40 p.m. ESPN, KPIX

    INSIDE
  • 49ers' window for capturing
    a Super Bowl title might be
    closing. PAGE 5
  • Playoff picture. PAGE 3
  • Jay Feely (4) kicked three field goals and Arizona handed Seattle its first home loss, keeping the 49ers' West title hopes alive. NFL notes, PAGE 3