Seahawks look to clinch a wild-card berth with a season sweep of the 49ers
The Seattle Seahawks, also known as Twitter’s favorite NFL team to complain about, are back in action on Sunday with a rematch against the San Francisco 49ers at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California.
Seattle (8-5) won its fourth in a row on Monday night. outlasting Minnesota 21-7. The running game was the difference offensively as the Seahawks had twice as many rushing attempts (42 vs. 21) and outgained the Vikings 214-77 on the ground. Bobby Wagner was relentless on defense, recording eight tackles, a quarterback hit and a controversial blocked field goal in the fourth quarter.
It was controversial because the officials picked up the flag on Wagner, who did use leverage to jump over the Vikings' line to get the block. However, it did not completely decide the game as all the penalty would have done for Minnesota was give them a first down. So, while the play did set off your textbook vocal minority sports Twitter outrage of the night, the reality is there is no guarantee the Vikings would have scored a touchdown if given an opportunity to continue that drive. The game was another great reminder that every play matters and teams need to take advantage of opportunities and not put the outcome in the hands of the officials.
San Francisco (3-10) also picked up a win last week, beating Denver 20-14 at home. The 49ers sprinted out to a 20-0 lead as quarterback Nick Mullens did a nice job of managing the offense against an aggressive Denver defense. Tight end George Kittle was unstoppable at times against the Broncos, as he finished the game with 210 receiving yards and a touchdown on just seven receptions. Shutting down the big play was huge for the defense as Denver’s Case Keenum completed 24 of 42 passes for 186 yards and a touchdown. D.J. Reed had a big day as he collected 12 tackles and a sack.
These two teams just played each other two weeks ago up in Seattle. The Seahawks won that game easily, 43-16, behind four touchdown passes from Russell Wilson. Wagner also intercepted a pass (one of three Seattle takeaways) and returned it 98 yards for the final score.
Seattle at San Francisco
Kickoff: Sunday, Dec 16 at 4:05 p.m. ET
Spread: Seahawks -4.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Seahawks' secondary vs. 49ers' passing game
If Seattle is going to complete another sweep of San Francisco the defense will need to do a better job of containing the 49ers' passing game. In the first meeting two weeks ago, Nick Mullens shredded the Seahawks' secondary for 414 passing yards, two touchdowns with one interception. Dante Pettis was the big target, as he caught five passes for 129 yards and two scores, including a 75-yarder. Look for head coach Kyle Shanahan to aggressively attack the Seattle secondary to avoid the need for long drives and to try and slow down the Seahawks' pass rush. Frank Clark, Jacob Martin and the rest of the Seattle defensive front are going to have to dominate the line of scrimmage from start to finish or Mullens could put up big numbers again.
2. Seahawks' offense vs. 49ers' defense
Russell Wilson had one of the worst games of his career throwing the football on Monday night, completing 10 of 20 pass attempts for 72 yards and a horrendous interception at the end of the first half. Wilson did step up with his legs late in the fourth quarter, breaking off a 40-yard run to set up Chris Carson's short touchdown plunge that made it a 14-0 game. The offensive line survived without D.J. Fluker (hamstring) as Jordan Simmons did a pretty good job of filling in. Doug Baldwin’s groin injury is something to keep an eye on as the passing game was definitely affected by his absence. For San Francisco, the 49ers are going to have to attack with their defensive front and get pressure from guys like DeForest Buckner, who had two sacks in the first meeting.
3. Taking care of the football
The beauty of an effective running game is that it lowers the risk of an inexplicable turnover, such as Wilson's ill-advised interception on Monday night when the Seahawks had the ball at the Vikings' 1-yard line late in the second quarter. To be fair, Wilson has thrown just six interceptions this season (in 346 pass attempts), but there have been a couple, such as Monday night's, that probably could have been avoided. Defensively, the Seahawks need to continue to be aggressive in creating turnovers. They are second in the NFL with a plus-11 margin while the 49ers are dead last at minus-21. San Francisco's defense has generated a total of five turnovers all season while giving the ball away 26 times (16 of those via interception). Seattle won the turnover battle 3-0 in the first meeting. The 49ers need to turn that around if they have any hope of pulling off the upset on Sunday.
Seattle can clinch a wild-card berth with its second win over San Francisco, so motivation and focus should not be an issue for the Seahawks. The environment in Levi’s Stadium tends to have a neutral-site feel to it when the 49ers aren't playing well. A fast start is vital if they want to keep the crowd engaged for four quarters. Seattle just needs to stay aggressive and try and put this game out of reach early so Pete Carroll can rest some guys with a bigger game against Kansas City on tap for next week. This game will be more competitive than the 27-point blowout that took place two weeks ago, but the Seahawks will get the job done and clinch a playoff spot for the sixth time in seven seasons.
Prediction: Seahawks 30, 49ers 24
— Written by Scott Whittum, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @ScottWhittum.