The NFC West could be decided when the San Francisco 49ers take on the Seattle Seahawks at 8:20 p.m ET tonight on NBC. A win would clinch a second straight division title for the 49ers (10-3-1), while handing the Seahawks (9-5) their first home loss of the season. The Seahawks are currently seeded fifth in the NFC playoff bracket, but four teams are right behind them at 8-6, so they still have work to do to secure their postseason berth. San Francisco beat Seattle 13-6 back in Week 7, but the 49ers have a different starting quarterback under center this time around.
When the San Francisco 49ers have the ball:
More known for its defense, San Francisco’s offense has more than held its own this season, as they 49ers rank 11th in the NFL in total offense with 361.7 yards per game and eighth in scoring at 25.5 points per game. The 49ers have the league’s second-best rushing attack (162.9 ypg), led by running back Frank Gore. Gore is eighth in rushing yards with 1,118, his sixth 1,000-yard campaign in eight seasons with the team. The passing offense may rank 26th in yards with less than 200 per game, but it’s been more than effective. The 49ers have a total of 20 touchdown passes and only seven interceptions, tying them for the fewest picks in the NFC. Colin Kaepernick initially replaced opening-week starter Alex Smith at quarterback in Week 11 after Smith sustained a concussion the prior week. Kaepernick hit the ground running, leading the 49ers to an impressive win over Chicago on “Monday Night Football,” and hasn’t looked back. In five games as the starting quarterback, Kaepernick has completed 66 percent of his passes for 1,083 yards, seven touchdowns with just two interceptions, and has led his team to a 4-1 record. He’s also rushed for 202 yards with two scores during this span and is second on the team for the season with five rushing touchdowns. Michael Crabtree is the team’s leading receiver with 73 catches for 868 yards and seven touchdowns. Tight end Vernon Davis is a dangerous weapon as well, but he and Kaepernick have had trouble developing chemistry to this point. Even with his mobility, Kaepernick has been sacked 13 times since becoming the starter, and overall the 49ers have given up 39 sacks. However, this is a team that doesn’t beat itself, as evidenced by its 14 total turnovers.
Seattle’s defense is ranked among the top 10 in the NFL in each of the four major categories. The Seahawks are third overall in total defense (303.9 ypg) and passing defense (197.6 ypg), second in scoring (15.6 ppg), and tenth in rushing defense (106.3 ypg). The unit has allowed a total of 21 offensive touchdowns this season, including a league-low 13 touchdown passes. The Seahawks do a good job getting consistent pressure on opposing quarterbacks (35 sacks), and excel at generating turnovers. The defense has forced 28 turnovers thus far, including 16 interceptions. It also has made the most of some of their opponents’ mistakes, as the defense has scored four touchdowns off of turnovers. As good as Seattle’s defense has been overall, it has been at its best at home. The Seahawks are surrendering fewer than 12 points per game and less than 280 yards of offense to the opposition in the six home games they have played. New England (475 yards) is the only team to gain more than 300 yards and score more than 20 points against Seattle at CenturyLink Field to this point.
When the Seattle Seahawks have the ball:
Seattle’s offense is powered by one of the league’s top rushers and a rookie quarterback who has opened many eyes with his play. The Seahawks are 16th in the league in total offense with 350.1 yards per game and 11th in scoring at 25 points per contest. They have the No. 3 rushing offense, thanks to running back Marshawn Lynch, who trails only Adrian Peterson in rushing yards with 1,379. They rank just 27th in passing offense with less than 190 yards per game, but that only tells part of the story when it comes to rookie starting quarterback Russell Wilson. The Seahawks’ third-round pick in April’s draft, Wilson has completed nearly 63 percent of his passes for 2,697 yards, 21 touchdowns and only nine interceptions. He is the league’s eighth-rated passer (95.5), higher than Drew Brees, Eli Manning and Andrew Luck to name a few, and he is currently tied with Cam Newton for the second-most touchdown passes by a quarterback in his rookie season. Wilson also has produced with his legs, including the three rushing touchdowns he had in last week’s 50-17 rout of Buffalo in Toronto. Wilson has done a good job of staying alive in the pocket and either getting the most yards he can after taking off or throwing it away, as he has been sacked just 26 times. He also loves playing at home, where he has a 12:1 touchdown-to-interception ratio and has yet to lose (6-0) in his brief career. Wide receivers Sidney Rice and Golden Tate are the top two leading pass-catchers and have each hauled in seven touchdown passes. The Seahawks as a team have turned the ball over only 17 times, including just eight fumbles.
San Francisco’s defense is No. 1 in the league in scoring defense (15.6 ppg) and second in total defense at 293 yards per game. The 49ers are ranked third against the run (91.1. ypg) and fifth against the pass (201.9 ypg), which is saying something since they have faced Aaron Rodgers, Matthew Stafford, Eli Manning, Drew Brees and Tom Brady already this season. Along those lines, the defense has allowed only 14 touchdowns passes, which is tied for the fourth-fewest in the NFL, and just six rushing touchdowns (third-fewest). The defense has 35 sacks, led by Defensive Player of the Year Aldon Smith’s 19.5. The linebacker is tied with Houston’s J.J. Watt for the league lead, and each is just three away from tying Michael Strahan’s single-season record of 22.5. Besides Smith, the 49ers have All-Pro linebackers Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman as the cornerstones of their defense. This defense may not force a lot of turnovers (22 total), but it more than makes up for it with its athleticism, physicality, tackling prowess and nasty disposition.
San Francisco and Seattle are similar in many ways. Both teams’ game plans are built around running the ball and playing strong defense. Statistically they rank either right behind or very close to one another in several categories, both offensive and defensive. And they are both led by young, athletic quarterbacks capable of making plays with both their arm and their legs. It’s not surprising that the first game was a close-knit affair, which was won 13-6 by the 49ers in Week 7 in San Francisco. Now the scene shifts to Seattle, where the Seahawks are unbeaten in six games. They have their last three games overall and have put 50 or more points on the scoreboard the past two Sundays. The 49ers are riding some momentum of their own, however, after beating New England 41-34 last Sunday night to end the Patriots’ December home winning streak at 20 games. It also just so happens that the last team to beat the Seahawks at home was the 49ers, who won 19-17 in Seattle in Week 16 last season. A year later, the biggest change between these two teams is the quarterbacks. As well as Russell Wilson has played for Seattle, he struggled in his first game against his division rival, while Colin Kaepernick had just one carry against the Seahawks back in Week 7. Kaepernick is the starter now and he has been a difference-maker for the 49ers’ offense since taking over. Look no further than his four-touchdown performance on the road against the Patriots. While I don’t think he will repeat the four touchdowns tonight, I do expect Kaepernick to make enough plays and then let the defense do the rest as San Francisco turns out its second straight impressive road showing and wraps up back-to-back NFC West titles in the process.
49ers 20, Seahawks 16