San Francisco 49ers at Seattle Seahawks (-3)
San Francisco vs. Seattle was the logical conclusion to the NFC. These teams mirror each other so well that they seemed destined to meet in the playoffs. Each team has its elite defense, young mobile QB, power running game and all-around solid roster. Just like in the hay-day of Yankees vs. Red Sox, you can almost give the winner or this match-up an unofficial world championship before the big one actually kicks offs.
In a pair of meetings this season, each team defended its home field. The Seahawks’ week 2 win of 29-3 over the Niners was very convincing and bodes well for Seattle heading into Sunday. In week 14, the 49ers pick-up a narrow 19-17 win in San Francisco.
If any team could be immune to CenturyLink Field’s 12th man, it’s the 49ers. Playing once a year at the loudest stadium in all of sports is an advantage for this fellow NFC West team. After winning in Green Bay and Carolina, it’s clear that the Niners are not affected by playoff road games.
49ers Game Plan
The 49ers were nearly flawless last week in Carolina against a very similar Panthers squad. If they can keep-up that momentum, there is a great chance they leave Seattle bound for a second consecutive trip to the Super Bowl. The only big edge the Seahawks have over the Panthers is an elite RB, Marshawn Lynch. If he’s shutdown, Seattle will have a hard time putting points on the board.
Keys to Success
- Run the ball – Seattle has the top ranked pass defense in the NFL and only allowed 172 yards per game, 22 yards better than the number two team. However, the Seahawks only rank eighth in the league against the run and the run is a strength of the 49ers offense. Both Frank Gore (110 yards in week 14) and Colin Kaepernick (87 yards in week two) have had success running on the Seahawks this season.
- Load the box – The Seahawks have great running options with Marshawn Lynch and Russell Wilson, but they have a weak passing game that only picked-up an average of 202 yards a game during the season. With a solid pass defense, the 49ers can risk loading the box to shutdown the running game and contain Wilson.
- Use the clock – Against the top pass defense in the NFL, it would be a good idea for the Niners to run often and look for short routes in the passing game. You don’t want to gamble on long passes against a very dangerous Seattle secondary. Using the clock is always a good plan in a hostile environment.
Prop Bet I Like
I’ll take Frank Gore going over 67.5 rushing yards. Seattle will need to respect Kaepernick on read-option plays, which will buy Gore some extra yards. Gore is a clutch player and has a history of big games against Seattle. This is a safe bet.
Key Stat: 8 is the number of interceptions that Richard Sherman had to lead the NFL in 2013. Fortunately for the 49ers, they now have two stud receivers in Anquan Boldin and Michael Crabtree. Add to that the normally clutch Vernon Davis and it should not be hard to avoid taking unnecessary chances against Sherman.
Seahawks Game Plan
Russell Wilson will make the difference in this game. He’ll need to move the ball with a lesser receiving core minus Percy Harvin, who provided a spark last week. On defense, Seattle will need to get after Kaepernick and force sacks and turnovers. They also must have their top-ranked pass defense show-up strong against the 49ers potent receivers.
Keys to Success
- Contain Kaepernick – Colin Kaepernick is a very mobile QB and finished third behind Cam Newton and Russell Wilson in rushing attempts with 92. The Seahawks will likely need to put a QB spy on him, at least on third down when he’s most likely to takeoff.
- Switch on Beast Mode – Marshawn Lynch scored four touchdowns (one on a reception) against the 49ers this year with rushing outputs of 98 and 72 yards. That’s not bad against the fourth best rush defense in the league. If Wilson can make a few runs of his own, the Seahawks can give the Niners a dose of their own medicine with the read-option.
- Get production from receivers – Even if Harvin was not sidelined with a concussion, Seattle’s weak spot is its receiving core. San Fran’s “big three” receivers are all basically better than the Seahawks’ top target, Golden Tate. It will not be hard for the Niners to key on Tate, take him out of the game and force more inexperienced receivers like Doug Baldwin and Jermaine Kearse to try and come up with big plays. This would be a great time for Zach Miller to have a massive playoff showing like he did last season in Atlanta with 8 grabs for 142 yards and a score. Still, Miller has not been very involved in the Seahawks’ offense this post-season, or in games against San Francisco (just 4 receptions for 46 yards). Luke Wilson could also come up big.
Prop Bet I Like
Give me the under on Russell Wilson throwing 1.5 touchdowns. I think one is likely, but have my doubts about two due to his receiving core and the overall strength of San Fran.
Key Stat: 28 interceptions by the Seattle defense was easily good for first in the NFL ahead of 23 by the Bills. Kaepernick only threw 8 INTs this year, but 4 of them came against the Seahawks. If Seattle can take away the 49ers’ edge in the passing game, they stand a good chance of winning in a slugfeast.
Playoff Prediction: 49ers 23, Seahawks 16,
Expect quite a few field goal attempts in this defensive battle. Each team is pretty stacked, but at the end of the day I don’t think the Seahawks have enough on offense to get the job done.