NFC West title and playoff seeding on the line when the 49ers and Seahawks finish off the regular season
The NFC West title is on the line on Sunday night at CenturyLink Field as the Seattle Seahawks host the San Francisco 49ers. These two teams met in Week 10 at Levi’s Stadium when Seattle won, 27-24 in overtime, on a walk-off Jason Myers 42-yard field goal. Both teams are dealing with some key injuries, so this will be the ultimate battle of attrition in front of a national television audience for the last game of the regular season.
Seattle (11-4) had a rough Sunday afternoon when the Cardinals thoroughly beat them, 27-13. The line of scrimmage battle was a total loss; Chandler Jones and the Arizona defensive line absolutely owned the Seattle offensive line all afternoon long. Left tackle Duane Brown was recovering from a knee procedure from earlier in the week, and his absence against the Cardinals loomed large. Chris Carson was the latest major injury in the running back room, and he is now out for the season with a fractured hip. Tyler Lockett and DK Metcalf’s lack of production was troubling, as the duo combined for just one reception for 12 yards. Ultimately, Kenyan Drake was too much for a depleted Seahawks defense, and his 80-yard touchdown run jumpstarted a 166-yard performance that allowed Arizona to maintain a healthy level of balance on offense.
Meanwhile, San Francisco (12-3) won another wild one on Saturday night, as their 34-31 win over the Rams took them one step closer to an NFC West championship. Jimmy Garoppolo completed 16 of 27 passes for 248 yards, one touchdown, and two interceptions. Those stats were not great on the surface, but when he needed to make a play on the game-winning drive, he stepped up twice on third and 16 with big pass plays. Those conversions led to Robbie Gould's eventual 33-yard game-winning field goal on the final play of the game. The defense did a nice job of slowing down the Rams' running game by only allowing 72 yards. Jared Goff did have some success throwing the ball, as he completed 27 of 46 passes for 323 yards, two touchdowns, and one interception.
San Francisco at Seattle
Kickoff: Sunday, Dec. 29 at 8:20 p.m. ET
Spread: 49ers -3
Three Things to Watch
1. Seahawks' wide receivers vs. 49ers’ secondary
One of the more disturbing elements of the Seattle offense’s performance last Sunday was the inability of the wide receiving core to make any type of significant plays. Tight end Jacob Hollister was the leading receiver against the Cardinals with five catches for 64 yards, which is not close to good enough for this passing attack. Tyler Lockett, DK Metcalf, and the rest of the wide receivers have to get separation on Sunday to provide a legit threat of the forward pass. San Francisco’s secondary should see this week as a golden opportunity to play plenty of press coverage and turn this into a battle of will and determination on pass plays. Having a healthier Richard Sherman will help, since he will have had another week of recovery from his hamstring injury. Emmanuel Moseley and the rest of the secondary should be in a position to create a turnover or two that could potentially break the ball game wide open on Sunday night.
2. Jimmy Garoppolo vs. Seattle defense
It starts with taking care of the football for Garoppolo on Sunday night. He can ill afford to be reckless with the football and take advantage of what the Seahawks defense will give him. Garoppolo completed 24 of 46 passes for 248 yards, one touchdown, one interception, and a couple of fumbles in Week 11 when these two teams first got together. The ability to simply throw the ball away when plays aren’t there will be a winner this week since it is generally safer to play field position in high stakes games. If Garoppolo can take care of the ball and find tight end George Kittle and wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders with some easy passes it will set them up for success all night long. The Seahawks defense could potentially get some reinforcements back as Jadeveon Clowney and Shaquill Griffin are expected to practice this week. Quandre Diggs is still up in the air as he tries to return from an ankle injury, and if he can somehow get back on the field, that will be a big boost for the Seattle secondary.
3. The return of Beast Mode
With all of the injuries at running back, the Seahawks went back to their old friend Marshawn Lynch to come back and, along with Robert Turbin, try to stabilize the shorthanded running attack. Lynch, by all accounts, has kept himself in pretty good shape, and he has stated that he has “unfinished business” in Seattle. The ability for Lynch to grind out a couple of quality runs with a great deal of physicality will ignite this team and the crowd. There will be challenges for Lynch, as the offensive line is still without left tackle Duane Brown, which is a big problem going against a ferocious San Francisco defensive front. However, don’t be surprised if Lynch finds a way to come in and provide some level of production on the big stage of "Sunday Night Football" and NBC; it will make for great theater for football fans everywhere.
The Seahawks will provide a better effort than they did last week against Arizona, as they definitely were not completely focused. Surviving the early wave of emotion from the crowd with Lynch’s return will be important for the 49ers. This game should be competitive enough to hang in the balance well into the second half. In the end, the 49ers will win the line of scrimmage battle as the game goes along, and they will wear down Seattle late. San Francisco will find a way to get the job done and secure the NFC West title along with home-field advantage in the NFC Playoffs.
Prediction: 49ers 31, Seahawks 23
— Written by Scott Whittum, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @ScottWhittum.