It All Comes Down to This…Sort of
Due to some recent schedule shifting, the 9-5 Seattle Seahawks now take on the 10-3-1 San Francisco 49ers on Sunday Night Football.
The stakes are through the roof as the 49ers are fighting to hold onto their division lead with the Seahawks breathing down their necks.
A win for Seattle on Sunday night would clinch the wild card spot, and keep them in contention for the division title. A win for San Fran would clinch the division and they would remain as the two seed, holding on to the first round bye.
This game has all of the ingredients for a prime time showdown – here is what I am watching for Sunday night.
Rising Stars Collide
It is difficult to find an NFL segment on ESPN without talk of the Rookie of the Year race. Robert Griffin III and Andrew Luck have been the front-runners for most of the season – and now Russell Wilson is finally getting the respect he deserves by joining the conversation.
Hell, it only took two consecutive 50+ point performances.
These three quarterbacks have been nothing short of amazing in their rookie campaigns – and their youth has overshadowed the production of 2nd year quarterback Colin Kaepernick.
Kaepernick recorded his first five starts as an NFL quarterback this season, in which the 49ers have gone 4-1. He has thrown for 7 touchdowns and 2 interceptions in those starts, with a quarterback rating of 103.1.
The benching of Alex Smith was a controversial move by head coach Jim Harbaugh, but with Kaepernick’s athletic-style of play brought to the offense, the questions have been put to rest.
Fortunately, Seattle has a youthful, athletic quarterback of their own. Wilson has evolved throughout the season as the offense has expanded, and seems to get substantially better every week.
Over the past 6 weeks, Wilson has thrown for 11 touchdowns and only 1 interception. Last week in the shellacking of the Bills, Wilson recorded a QBR rating of 99.3, the highest of any quarterback this season.
Wilson has risen from the pint sized, third-round draft pick – to the front-runner for Rookie of the Year. Kaepernick has had his share of success as well. It will be interesting to see who leads their team to victory in the prime time showdown.
A Game of Inches
While both offenses have been picking up speed, it has been their defenses that have been the most consistent all season. And their numbers are nearly identical.
On the season, the Seahawks have allowed a combined 219 points. The 49ers have allowed 218.
In total defense, the 49ers are number two in the league with 293 yards allowed per game. The Seahawks are number three with 303.9 yards.
It doesn’t get much closer than that.
With these two elite defenses clashing, it will likely come down to which quarterback makes the most plays. If these last few games are any measure, I wouldn’t bet against my boy Russ.
Beast Mode Beast Mode Beast Mode
While the defense has been the consistent force for the Seattle team, the running attack has been right behind stride for stride.
Marshawn Lynch is the league’s second leading rusher with 1,379 yards and 10 touchdowns on the season.
Over his last two games, Lynch has racked up 241 yards and 4 touchdowns on only 21 carries.
This production is off the charts and – other than the fact he has been going beast mode – a lot of the credit goes to offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell.
The expansion of the offense as the season has progressed has been a thing of beauty. The addition of the read-option has caught defenses off-guard on nearly every occasion, and the resulting numbers for both Wilson and Lynch have been extraordinary.
In week 7 Marshawn rushed for 103 yards against the 49ers, joining Ahmad Bradshaw and Steven Jackson as the only 100-yard rushers allowed on the season.
Along with the rest of the team, Beast Mode thrives in front of the 12th man. Add the fact that it is prime time, and I’m sure you’ll see an explosive night from the big fella.
Mr. and Mr. Smith
The 49er defense is stout to say the least, and it begins up front. Tied for the NFL lead in sacks is Aldon Smith with 19.5. The 2nd-year Missouri stand-out has already made a name for himself by surpassing Reggie White as the fastest player to reach 30 sacks – in 27 games.
He has been a menace for offensive lineman all season, and his partner in crime has been a major contributor.
Justin Smith is currently in his 12th season and still emitting dominance week in and week out. He has been named to three consecutive pro-bowls – 2009-2011 – and has been right alongside Aldon Smith all year, absorbing blockers and setting the young man loose.
However, there may be a different group up front for the 49ers front seven this week.
Justin suffered an elbow injury, and they are not sure of the severity. He was not present at the Thursday practice, and Harbaugh claimed, “He expects him to play if humanly possible.”
With Justin there or not, we know Aldon will be present. And that means Russell Okung better bring his A-game.
The protection has been great over the recent Seattle surge. Also, the offensive game plan and natural mobility of Wilson give defenses great difficulty in taking him down – giving his greatest Fran Tarkenton impression.
Wilson will likely have more pressure on him than usual Sunday night – but with his awareness and footwork – there is little he cannot overcome.
Heading the Rivalry
While these two teams have been battling in the NFC west since the Seahawks left the AFC West, the two head coaches have a history of their own.
Pete Carroll knows opposing coach Jim Harbaugh very well, from both the collegiate and professional levels.
When Carroll was at USC, Harbaugh was at Stanford. Both Pac 10 teams, both seeing each other every year.
The rivalry began there, and continued when the coaches joined the NFC west.
When asked to comment on their relationship, Harbaugh joked, “I don’t remember getting any cards from him at the holidays.”
Carroll responded, “His card will be in the mail.”
Obviously these two can joke about their rivalry, but that doesn’t erase the fact it exists. And with the importance of this prime time game, it will only intensify.
I’ve been waiting all year for Sunday night.