Many people expected the NFC West to be the NFL's toughest division coming into the 2013 season. This is large in part because the San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks are in the NFC West, but also because the Arizona Cardinals and St. Louis Rams are as well. The 49ers, Seahawks, and Cardinals are currently potential playoff teams, with the Seahawks having already clinched a playoff spot with their win over New Orleans on Monday night. The Rams currently have a very small chance of making the playoffs, but they are a greatly improved team and could be a potential spoiler for other division foes. The Cardinals have been a surprisingly solid team thus far, mainly because of their solid defense led by Patrick Peterson.
Having said all this, the two teams in the NFC West that are legitimate Super Bowl contenders are the Seahawks and 49ers. The Seahawks have been the most consistent team in the entire NFL over the first 13 weeks. They are led by second year starting quarterback out of Wisconsin, Russell Wilson, who has proven that he is more than just a game manager. Wilson has led multiple fourth quarter comebacks already this season and has the Seahawks record at 11-1 through 12 games. The 49ers bounced back from their tough two game losing streak to win their last two games. They got back to their rough and tough physical play that they have been known to use to their advantage during the Jim Harbaugh era.
The Seahawks and 49ers both come into this week 13 showdown with some momentum after dominating wins in their respective games in week 12. So far this season, the 49ers have been dominant against teams currently out of the playoffs. They are 8-0 against teams not currently in the playoffs. On the flip side, they have played four games against current playoff teams, and lost all four of those games including against the Seahawks earlier in the season. It's a good sign that they have won the games that they are supposed to win, but a bad sign that they haven't even managed to win at least one of the four games against current playoff teams. The upcoming game against the Seahawks gives the 49ers a great opportunity to gain some confidence that they can not only beat the Seahawks, but also beat a Super Bowl contending team.
The Seahawks have won games by dominating all aspects of the game. They have become a very balanced offensive attack that can hit big plays in the passing game as well as big plays in the running game with Marshawn Lynch. Lynch has been one of the best running backs in the league over the past two seasons, and continues to lead the Seahawks running attack this season. One aspect of an NFL team that often times goes unnoticed is the special teams. The Seahawks special teams coverage unit has given up only 15 punt return yards all season. That is a ridiculously low amount of yards to have given up at this point in the season, and the punt coverage team deserves a lot of credit for that accomplishment. The 49ers special teams unit has been average and will need to improve if the 49ers want to beat the Seahawks.
The 49ers have struggled against good defenses all season long. This can't be the case come Sunday against the Seahawks very solid defense. They will have to find a way to make some big plays down the field, and will have to be able to protect Colin Kaepernick. The 49ers offense relies on short third down conversions and getting into a rhythm where they are able to move the ball fluently down the field without mistakes such as penalties or negative yardage plays. This will be the only way the 49ers will be able to score points against the stingy Seattle defense. One way they can do this is by getting Michael Crabtree involved in the passing game and continuing to pound the ball with Frank Gore. Gore is the heart and soul of the 49ers offense. Whenever Gore goes, the 49ers offense goes, and the 49ers win.
Russell Wilson and Colin Kaepernick are both stellar second year starting quarterbacks. Both were able to lead their teams to a playoff birth, and Kaepernick nearly led the 49ers to a Super Bowl victory. It'll be very interesting to see how both quarterbacks handle the defensive pressure that they will both receive. Wilson is very well suited to escape pressure with his quickness and ability to escape the pocket in seemingly impossible situations. Kaepernick is better in the open field and can break a huge run at any time, but he's not very effective when it comes to escaping pressure in the pocket.
In this particular style of game where points will be hard to come by, and a low scoring game is likely, I would be more comfortable with Russell Wilson because he takes care of the ball and has great instincts against tough defenses. This is not to say that Kaepernick is not capable of doing the same. If the 49ers offensive line can find a way to protect Kaepernick and give him enough time to make throws down the field to Anquan Boldin, Vernon Davis, and Michael Crabtree, they will have a great chance to get a win on Sunday.
The 49ers defense will have to be able to stop Marshawn Lynch. They have struggled to slow down Lynch for whatever reason over the past couple years, which is really the only running back they consistently have trouble with. Stopping Lynch, as well as preventing Russell Wilson from escaping the pocket and getting out in the open field, will be the keys to the 49ers slowing down the Seahawks offense.
If the 49ers offense can put up at least 20 points, I think the defense can hold down the Seahawks offense just enough to pull out a victory. I see this being a low scoring, defensive struggle. Last year, the 49ers beat the Seahawks 13-6 at home. I see a low-scoring game this year as well with the 49ers winning a tight game by the score of 20-16.
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