8:15 PM EST, ESPN – Line: 49ers -6, Over/Under: 46
A Monday Night Showdown between bitter division rivals is on tap tonight as the league’s lone remaining undefeated, the San Francisco 49ers, play host to the surging Seattle Seahawks, from Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California. While their opponent tonight has received a wealth of attention (and rightfully so), breathing down their neck are the Seahawks (7-2, 2nd in NFC West), who are off to their best start since 2013, when they coincidentally won the franchise’s only Lombardi Trophy. However, while that incarnation of the team was led by one of the most dominant Defenses in the history of the league, this led by a high-flying Offense spearheaded by an MVP-caliber Quarterback. Indeed, it’s a bit odd to see Seattle win this way after so many years of stellar play on the defensive side of the football coupled with a conservative, run-oriented attack, but you simply can’t argue with results, as Russell Wilson (68.3%, 2,505 YDS, 7.52 NY/A, 22 TD, 1 INT, 79.6) has carried them on his shoulders throughout the first half of the season. After receiving the most lucrative contract extension in NFL History (4 Years/$140 million, 107 million guaranteed), the 31-Year Old has taken his game to another level, posting career-bests in a slew of categories, including Completion Percentage (68.3%), Touchdown Percentage (7.5%), Interception Percentage (0.3%), Yards per Attempt (8.5), Net Yards per Attempt (7.52), Sack Percentage (7.0%), Yards per Game (278.3), Passer Rating (118.2), and QBR (79.6). In year’s past, he’s been held back by an annually-underachieving Offensive Line, which has forced Pete Carroll and the Coaching Staff to reign him in, but this is a new Russell Wilson, one that has found that sweet space between efficiency and explosion, or as a fellow celebrated Mobile Quarterback often says, “between the science and art of the position”. It’s outrageous to think that there were any concerns over his stature, for this is the same guy who was selected 75th Overall that is leading the league in Touchdown Passes, Passer Rating, and Fourth Quarter Comebacks (3). And they needed every bit of his magic in last weekend’s 40-34 Overtime Win at home against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, with Wilson completing 29-of-43 Passes for 378 Yards and a season-high Five Touchdowns, including the 10-Yard Game-Winner in the extra period. Evolving into a shootout, the Seahawks came out on the winning end of this aerial duel, with Receivers, D.K. Metcalf (29 REC, 525 YDS, 18.1 Y/R, 5 TD) and Tyler Lockett (59 REC, 767 YDS, 13.0 Y/R, 6 TD), hauling in Nineteen Receptions for a combined 275 Yards and Three Touchdowns, with the latter putting together a career showing with Thirteen Catches on Eighteen Targets for 152 Yards and a pair of scores. Third-Year Tight End, Jacob Hollister (9 REC, 75 YDS, 8.3 Y/R, 2 TD), caught Two Touchdowns as well, including the winner in Overtime, proving to be more than an adequate replacement for the injured Will Dissly (23 REC, 262 YDS, 11.4 Y/R, 4 TD), who saw his promising season come to an end with a torn Achilles three weeks ago. Not content with the weapons on hand, Seattle added the mercurial Josh Gordon (20 REC, 287 YDS, 14.4 Y/R, 1 TD) to their roster last weekend, signing the veteran Receiver after he was released from New England Patriots following a brief stay on Injured Reserve. It remains to be seen if the former All-Pro will make his team debut tonight, but his presence alongside the likes of the aforementioned Metcalf and Lockett makes for a frightening triumvirate for opposing Secondaries. This all makes for one helluva matchup within the game against San Francisco’s dominant Defense, for Wilson has enjoyed a great deal of success against them in the past; in fourteen meetings including the Playoffs, he’s gone 12-3 against them, completing 62.7% of his Attempts for an average 206.5 Yards on 7.39 Net Yards per Attempt, with Twenty-Four Touchdowns opposed to Eight Interceptions, with those twelve wins representing the most he’s logged against any one team in the NFL.
Meanwhile, and then there was one, for with the New England Patriots’ defeat last weekend, the 49ers (8-0, 1st in NFC West) are the league’s last remaining undefeated team. If you had told us back in the Offseason that San Francisco would be a vastly improved club that would challenge for not only the NFC West crown, but rank among the most legitimate of Super Bowl contenders, we probably would have dismissed you statement, but this is the beauty of sports, folks, for it’s entirely possible to go from worst to first in a short period of time. Remember, this is a proud franchise that had gone 17-47 (.266) from 2015 to 2018, and was selecting Second Overall in the 2019 NFL Draft following a fourth consecutive losing campaign. Indeed, Head Coach, Kyle Shanahan, and General Manager, John Lynch, were under intense pressure to deliver a better product than what they had been able to muster in the previous two years on the job, which had been decimated by injury. However, after such a rough start to their tenure together, their hard work is paying MAJOR dividends, as the Niners look like a juggernaut on both sides of the football, trampling the opposition to the tune of 171.2 Rushing Yards per Game (2nd Overall), dominating on Defense where they’ve yielded just 12.8 Points per Game (2nd Overall) on a league-low 241.0 Total Yards (1st Overall), and opportunistically feasting upon Sixteen Takeaways (4th Overall), which is already nine more than they registered in all of 2018. Simply put, everything that could go right, has for this club. After missing nearly all of last season with a torn ACL, Jimmy Garoppolo (70.8%, 1,806 YDS, 7.30 NY/A, 13 TD, 7 INT, 59.6 QBR) is beginning to resemble the Quarterback, that Shanahan and Lynch moved heaven and earth to acquire at the 2017 Trade Deadline. While his statistics won’t overwhelm you, the 28-Year Old has been solid, completing an efficient 70.8% of his Attempts for an average of 225.8 Yards on 7.30 Net Yards per Attempt, with Thirteen Touchdowns in comparison to Seven Interceptions. Sure, he’s benefitted greatly from the success that his team’s had on the ground, but keep in mind that he’s been operating largely without his two Starting Offensive Tackles, Joe Staley (Fibula) and Mike McGlinchey (Knee), and versatile Fullback Kyle Juszczyk (Knee), due to injury for weeks now, while Lynch just went out and got him a reliable Receiver in the form of Emmanuel Sanders (41 REC, 504 YDS, 12.3 Y/R, 4 TD), whom the 49ers acquired in a trade with the Denver Broncos two weeks ago. With Staley, McGlinchey, and Juszczyk all expected to return for tonight’s tilt with the Seahawks, and Sanders getting more acclimated to his new surroundings with each passing game, there is plenty of reason to believe that the best is yet to come with Garoppolo. And if his performance in last week’s 28-25 victory over the Arizona Cardinals was any indication, it may not be long before that happens; Garoppolo turned in arguably his finest performance since joining the club, completing 28-of-37 Passes for 317 Yards and a career-high Four Touchdowns, spreading the ball to nine different players, chief among them Sanders, who hauled in Seven Receptions on Nine Targets for 112 Yards and a Touchdown. Pro-Bowl Tight End, George Kittle (46 REC, 541 YDS, 11.8 Y/R, 2 TD), added another Seventy-Nine Yards and a score on Six Catches, while the Backfield tandem of Matt Brieda (99 CAR, 524 YDS, 5.3 Y/C, 1 TD) and Tevin Coleman (83 CAR, 355 YDS, 4.3 Y/C, 5 TD) accounted for Ninety-One Rushing Yards on Twenty-Seven Carries. Defensively, the visitors kept the home side in check, allowing 357 Total Yards on Nineteen First Downs, with 2019 No. One Overall Pick, Kyler Murray, completin17-of-24 Passes for 241 Yards and a pair of Touchdowns, though Eighty-Eight Yards came on a late Touchdown that made the score a bit more respectable than it really was. San Francisco sacked the elusive Murray three times for a loss Thirty-Seven Yards, with a loaded Defensive Line continuing to wreck havoc as they’ve done all season. Remember all of those early First Round Picks that the Niners have spent in the past on Defensive Linemen? Well it’s finally paid off this season, with the likes of DeForest Buckner (33 TKL, 5 TFL, 8 QBH, 4.0 SK, 2 FF, 1 FR, 2 PD), Arik Armstead (28 TKL, 7 TFL, 7 QBH, 5.5 SK, 1 FF, 1 FR), and the newest of their lot, 2019 No. Two Overall Pick, Nick Bosa (21 TKL, 11 TFL, 13 QBH, 7.0 SK, 1 FF, 1 FR, 1 INT, 1 PD), making life miserable for opposing Quarterbacks. Defensive Coordinator, Robert Saleh, has gotten the most out of this sleeping giant, which has permitted the fewest Passing Yards in the league (138.1) and amassed Thirty Sacks (3rd Overall). They’ll have their work cut out for them against the weekly wizardry of the aforementioned Wilson, who is sure to be under fire early and often tonight.