Richard Sherman and the Seahawks can improve their playoff positioning with a win over the 49ers
One of the NFL’s most heated rivalries will serve as the finishing course for this season’s Thanksgiving football feast when the Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers wrap up the action on NBC. A rematch of last season’s NFC Conference Championship Game, the Seahawks and 49ers both enter this game at 7-4, two games behind NFC West leader Arizona.
Seattle currently lays claim to the last Wild Card spot in the NFC, by virtue of a better divisional record than San Francisco. However, the Seahawks have only played two games (1-1) against NFC West foes while the 49ers have played three (1-2). Whichever team wins this game will take at least a one game lead over the other in the playoff standings.
In the all-time series, Seattle leads 16-15 thanks to its 23-17 win at home over San Francisco in last season’s conference title game. Jim Harbaugh holds a 4-3 edge over Pete Carroll since they started going head-to-head in the pros in 2011, and Carroll has yet to beat the 49ers at home (0-4). This will be the first game in the series at Levi’s Stadium and these teams will play again up in Seattle in Week 15.
Seattle Seahawks at San Francisco 49ers
Kickoff: 8:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: NBC
Spread: San Francisco -1
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Seattle’s Key to Victory: Play Like It’s 2013
This time last season, the Seahawks were on bye enjoying the fruits of a six-game winning streak that had them sitting at 10-1. They would go just 3-2 after the bye, but that was still good enough to win the NFC West on their way to a dominating playoff run that culminated with a blowout victory over the Broncos in Super Bowl XLVIII. That Seattle team was characterized primarily by two things – a suffocating, physical defense and a punishing running game. This season, the Seahawks sputtered out of the gate, as back-to-back losses in the middle of October had them sitting at 3-3. While injuries can be blamed for Seattle’s mediocre start, the Seahawks also had the look of a team that was searching for an identity. Starting in Week 8, Pete Carroll’s team got back to what worked so well for them last season, recommitting to running the football and playing the type of defense that defined it during its championship run. The result is a 4-1 stretch that includes last week’s domination of Arizona, the team with the best record in the NFL. With five games remaining and their playoff fate far from secure, the Seahawks are getting healthy at the right time. More importantly, however, Carroll’s team also appears to be hungry once again, just like it was at this point last season. And we all know how 2013 turned out, right?
[inline_team_schedule team-id=32 date=20141030 sport=nfl upcoming=1 limit=8][/inline_team_schedule]
San Francisco’s Key to Victory: Secure the Football
While on paper this is a rematch of last season’s NFC Conference Championship Game, much has changed since then for both teams. Seattle’s struggles have already been documented, while the start of San Francisco’s troubles can be traced back to Jan. 19 when the Seahawks beat the 49ers 23-17 in Seattle to earn a trip to Super Bowl XLVIII. Late in that game, All-Pro linebacker NaVorro Bowman suffered a serious knee injury and has yet to return to the field. San Francisco’s defense has clearly been impacted by his absence and that was before fellow All-Pro Patrick Willis was placed on injured reserve a few weeks ago because of a toe injury. Those aren’t the only losses this defense has had to endure either with another starter (DT Ian Williams) as well as the team’s first-round pick, SS Jimmie Ward, also on IR. A depleted defense has put more pressure on the offense to produce, but the results have been mixed. The 49ers are 7-4 and have won three in a row, but those victories have come by a total of 13 points against teams that are a combined 10-23. San Francisco is not an offensive juggernaut, ranking 19th in total (340.0 ypg) and 22nd in scoring (20.7 ppg) offense, so right now John Harbaugh’s team’s margin of error is rather thin. That’s why ball security is so critical. For the season, the 49ers are tied for fourth with a plus-eight turnover differential, but they are just plus-two over their past five games. They are 3-2 during this stretch, but all of the wins have been close while the two losses were by a total of 28 points to Denver and St. Louis. Seattle enters this game having forced eight takeaways and committing just three turnovers in its past four games. In three games against the 49ers last season, the Seahawks dominated the turnover battle with a plus-six margin. With a shorthanded defense and an inconsistent offense, San Francisco must maximize its possessions. Especially against Seattle, a team that feeds off of the opposition’s mistakes and would love nothing more than to deal a blow to their archrival’s playoff hopes.
Seattle and San Francisco have the same record, but the Seahawks currently hold the tiebreaker edge over the 49ers in the playoff standings. There are still plenty of divisional games remaining, but don’t mistake the importance of this one, considering Arizona has a two-game lead in the NFC West on both teams. After an uneven stretch, Seattle has gotten back to the style of football that was so successful last season. San Francisco is hanging tough, but I think the injuries on defense are just too much to overcome, especially against quality teams like the Seahawks. In typical Seattle vs. San Francisco fashion, this game will be close, physical and feisty, but the Seahawks’ defense will eventually wear down the 49ers’ offense with Russell Wilson applying the final blow.