A lot is on the line for both teams involved: Seattle (9-5) and San Francisco (10-3-1), which is a breath of fresh air. Normally we'd see a late-season San Francisco/Seattle showdown on the schedule and not even give the game a second glance.
This season, however, is a completely different story. The Niners have already clinched a playoff spot with 10 wins, but will have the opportunity to clinch the NFC West division for the second straight season with a victory. The Seahawks find themselves sitting in the 5th seed at the moment, but have yet to clinch a spot. They will need a victory tonight to clinch a playoff spot since the Skins and Vikings both won today as well.
The match-up is so highly anticipated that the NFL rendered the game primetime-worthy and moved the game from 4:15 to the Sunday night slot on NBC.
With two young quarterbacks at the helm for both teams––rookie Russell Wilson for SEA and second-year speedster Colin Kaepernick for SF––the defenses for each team must be licking their chops. The Niners and Seahawks are the league's top two scoring defenses heading into Week 16, and will be bringing their A-games.
Both teams are incredibly similar in all aspects of the game:
San Francisco offense: 26th in passing offense, 2nd in rushing offense, 7th in turnovers
Seattle offense: 27th in passing offense, 3rd in rushing offense, 3rd in turnovers
San Francisco defense: 1st in scoring, 2nd in total yardage, 16th in turnovers
Seattle defense: 2nd in scoring, 3rd in total yardage, 5th in turnovers
With these numbers are win totals eerily similar, it's clear that this game will be a hard-fought game and that the team with the least amount of mistakes will prevail in the end.
Star running backs Marshawn Lynch (1,379 yards, 10 TDs) and Frank Gore (1,118 yards, 7 TDs) have both been having fantastic seasons for their respective teams, and will both obviously need to show up to play tonight to give their team the best chance at coming away with a victory.
Despite all of this, it will be the play of the two young quarterbacks that will have the largest impact on the outcome of tonight's match-up. Seattle's 24-year old rookie Russell Wilson (62.9%, 2,697 yards, 21 TD, 9 INT, 95.5 rating) has gotten better and more comfortable in the pocket as the season has progressed. He has quickly made his case as the dark-horse for the AP Offensive Rookie of the Year award this season, though he has not shot at winning the honor over Luck or Griffin.
San Francisco's former No. 1 overall pick back in the 2005 NFL draft began the season as the starter after breaking out with a career-year in 2011 and taking the Niners to the NFC Championship. However a concussion in a Week 9 tie to St. Louis knocked him out of the lineup for a couple of weeks.
Niner backup quarterback Colin Kaerpernick, 25, took over the role for the team and hasn't looked back. The dual-threat signal caller has taken the 49ers on a 4-1 run in his first 5 career NFL starts and has won over the fan base. Even with a healthy Smith back, Kaepernick still has the starting role and is poised to prove everyone he should keep the job in front of a primetime crowd tonight.
Though the rookie Wilson has more experience under center this season, I believe Kaepernick (65.6%, 1,289 yards, 7 TD, 2 INT, 101.4 rating; 379 rushing yards, 5 TDs in 11 games/5 starts this year) proved himself in a 41-34 victory over New England last week. After going into Foxboro last week and putting up 41 and putting up 31 at New Orleans a couple of weeks ago, I have no doubts Kaepernick can outplay Wilson on the road.
Both quarterbacks will have tough nights against these defenses, but with some help from Frank Gore the Niners offense will do just enough and limit mistakes against Chris Clemons, Richard Sherman & Co.
Though Seattle's offense has put up a total of 108 points over the last two weeks, you have to remember that those two games were against Arizona and Buffalo––not the best scoring defense in the league. Aldon Smith (19.5 sacks this season, 3.0 shy of tying Michael Strahan's single-season record of 22.5) will have a field day against the rookie Wilson, as he recorded 3 tackles and 1.0 sack in the 13-6 over Seattle earlier in the season.
Prediction: I'd take San Francisco's defense over Seattle's, though it is really close, and the Niners offense will make fewer critical mistakes. The Niners take this one in a close one, 21-17. Though I'd still love to see the 'Hawks in the postseason.
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