Wrapping up the regular season, the NFC West champion Seattle Seahawks will hit the road to State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Arizona, to take on the San Francisco 49ers. The proverbial home team will be looking for revenge after Seattle won their November meeting 37-27 in a game that was not as close as the final score indicated.
The Seahawks (11-4) will be playing for a chance at the NFC's No. 1 seed but they'll need a win plus a Packers and Saints loss. Either way, Seattle is starting to peak at the right time, especially on defense, as evidenced by last week's performance. the Seahawks stepped up in a big way last week in the second half of a 20-9 win over the Rams. The win secured the team's first division title since 2016. It is also the fifth division title during head coach Pete Carroll's tenure.
Russell Wilson took his share of hits but did a nice job of making plays in the second half along with avoiding the turnover bug. Chris Carson rushed for 69 yards on 16 carries and did enough to keep the Rams off balance. DK Metcalf caught six passes for 59 yards. David Moore had a field position-flipping 45-yard reception on the first touchdown drive of the second half that gave the offense some much-needed confidence. The defense was lights out as they limited the Rams to just 334 yards and came up with a critical goal-line stand in the third quarter that ended up being a big difference-maker for this emerging unit.
San Francisco (6-9) also came up with a big win last Saturday afternoon when they upset the Arizona Cardinals 20-12. They don't have a shot at the playoffs, but they've made life hard on one NFC West rival and can do it again. C.J. Beathard did an excellent job filling in as he completed 13 of 22 passes for 182 yards and three touchdowns. George Kittle caught four passes for 92 yards in his first game back from a foot injury and also injected some nice energy into this offense. Jeff Wilson Jr. dominated the Arizona defensive front and rushed for 183 yards on 22 carries for an 8.3 yard per carry average.
The defense got after Kyler Murray, who was never able to get rolling and burn the defense with a bunch of explosive plays with his legs, as defensive coordinator Robert Saleh had a great scheme to contain Murray. They'll need more of that to keep the dangerous Seahawks at bay on Sunday.
Seattle at San Francisco
Kickoff: Sunday, Jan. 3 at 4:25 p.m. ET
Where: State Farm Stadium (Glendale, Ariz.)
Spread: Seahawks -4.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Can the Seahawks' offense get back up to speed?
Staying balanced on offense is going to be important heading into the upcoming playoffs. They've scored just 20 points in consecutive weeks after dropping 40 on the Jets. That starts with efficient play out of Russell Wilson — and he did a very good job of taking what the 49ers defense gave in the first meeting this season. Wilson was 27-of-37 for 261 yards with four touchdowns and zero interceptions. Offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer will have more options in the running game this time around as Carlos Hyde and Carson will be available on Sunday.
Third down situations will be another thing to watch with this offense this week and during their playoff run. Seattle converted nine of 15 third-down opportunities in the first meeting, and that was a huge contributing factor to them scoring 37 points in the first meeting. If this offense can consistently convert at least 50 percent of their third down plays this week and in the playoffs it could end up in a very deep run towards the Super Bowl.
2. The 49ers' offense will need to take advantage of an aggressive Seahawks defense
Kyle Shanahan is going to have a bigger challenge this week as he develops his offensive game plan. Beathard can expect to be under siege from the opening snap since you know that the Seahawks will stack eight guys in the box. Beathard is going to have to get the ball out by throwing quick screen passes to the running backs to slow down the pass rush. George Kittle should expect to see at least eight to 10 targets as the primary target with Brandon Aiyuk ruled out due to a high ankle sprain.
Staying on schedule will be another key — it won't be a bad thing to have to punt and play field position against the Seahawks this week. San Francisco turned the ball over twice in the first meeting, and those two turnovers ended up being very costly. Fans will need to keep an eye on how Shanahan's strategy unfolds against this aggressive Seattle defense.
3. Can Seattle continue to build momentum heading into the playoffs?
Momentum is an underrated factor in a team's ability to make a deep postseason run. Head coach Pete Carroll will be looking to keep the foot on the gas so his team can head into the playoffs on a positive note. The Seahawks still have an outside shot at the number one seed in the NFC if they can win and get help from Chicago and Carolina on Sunday. Thus, it is going to be important for Seattle to come out and put together another clean game in all three phases so they can hit the ground running heading into the Wild Card round. Look for this team to try and come out aggressively on offense to try and put this game out of reach right away so they can potentially rest some guys in the second half.
This should be a fairly typical hard-fought NFC West type of game, as both teams love to play physical football against one another. The Seahawks will come out and perform well on offense and will get the running game going a bit, and Wilson will put up another disciplined game throwing the football. Metcalf and Lockett are also going to get rolling and come up with a couple of explosive plays to break the game open as well. Defensively, Seattle will be able to keep the 49ers under 20 points, and that will help them lock up their 12th win of the 2020 season, sending them into the playoffs on a positive note.
Prediction: Seahawks 30, 49ers 17
— Written by Scott Whittum, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Parler @Scottwhittum