8:20 PM EST, NBC – Line: 49ers 3-, Over/Under: 47
It seems the NFL’s schedule makers got it right for a change, for the final game of the final week of the Regular Season will decide a good deal as we transition to the Playoffs, as the Seattle Seahawks play host to the San Francisco 49ers in a MASSIVE matchup from CenturyLink Field in Seattle, Washington. With one game left to go before returning to the Postseason for the first time since 2013, it’s poetic that the 49ers (12-3, 1st in NFC West) can earn the NFC’s No. One Seed at the scene of their last Playoff Appearance; of course, we’re referring to the 2013 NFC Championship Game in which the visiting Niners fell on the wrong side of history in a narrow defeat that would see their bitter rivals not only advance to Super Bowl XLVIII, but hoist the Lombardi Trophy as well. Flash forward six years and San Francisco arrives at CenturyLink Field in complete control of it’s destiny, for a victory will clinch dominion over the NFC West and home field throughout the NFC Playoffs. However, a loss will drop them all the way to the Fifth Seed, which in turn will mean a trip to any of a number of destinations, ranging from New Orleans to Green Bay to Philadelphia or perhaps even Dallas (though that one seems the most unlikely). Indeed, this has been a season of validation for a proud franchise that had endured five straight losing seasons, with the all the hard work that Head Coach, Kyle Shanahan, and General Manager, John Lynch, finally paying off; the scheme has worked to near perfection and the roster has been the healthiest it’s been since Shanahan and Lynch arrived three years ago, with a slew of talented youngsters finally living up to their potential. First and foremost, after missing all but three games in 2018, Jimmy Garoppolo (68.5%, 3,693 YDS, 7.11 NY/A, 27 TD, 13 INT, 59.1 QBR) is looking more and more like the Franchise Quarterback that the club foresaw him being when they traded for him midseason three years ago. After a slow return from ACL Surgery in which he threw nearly as many Interceptions (7) as he did Touchdowns (9), the former New England Patriot has really taken flight over the second half of the term, throwing Eighteen Touchdown in comparison to just Six Interceptions, which can be attributed to a healthier Offensive Line, which welcomed back Tackles, joe Staley and Mike McGlinchey, and a Receiving Corps that was bolstered by the midseason addition of veteran Wideout, Emmanuel Sanders (33 REC, 477 YDS, 14.5 Y/R, 3 TD). We all know what Shanahan can do with an accurate Quarterback and talent on the perimeter, and now that the puzzle is almost complete, this Offense should only improve. And speaking of improvement, we’d challenge you to find a Defense that has grown more significantly in 2019 than San Francisco’s. All those years of spending premium Draft Picks on Defensive Linemen has finally paid off, with a Front Four that has been arguably the most destructive in the league. It all starts up front for Defensive Coordinator, Robert Saleh’s troops, with DeForest Buckner (57 TKL, 8 TFL, 12 QBH, 6.5 SK, 2 FF, 4 FR, 1 TD, 2 PD) and Arik Armstead (53 TKL, 11 TFL, 17 QBH, 10.0 SK, 2 FF, 1 FR, 2 PD), alongside Edge-Rushers, Nick Bosa (41 TKL, 16 TFL, 22 QBH, 9.0 SK, 1 FF, 2 FR, 1 INT, 2 PD) and Dee Ford (14 TKL, 6 TFL, 6 QBH, 6.5 SK, 2 FF, 1 PD), wrecking utter havoc in the trenches. With Forty-Seven Sacks (5th Overall), Eighty-Five Tackles for Loss (4th Overall), and Eighty-Four Quarterback Hits (20th Overall), the 49ers have evolved into the most menacing Pass Defense in the NFL, yielding a league-low 165.6 Yards on just 4.7 Net Yards per Attempt. Furthermore, they’ve permitted the second-lowest success rate on Third Down (31.5%), while feasting on their opponents’ mistakes with Twenty-Seven Takeaways (5th Overall), which is a staggering twenty more than they logged in all of 2018. When we last saw them, they overcame an early 3-14 deficit at home to pull off their first season-sweep of the Los Angeles Rams since their rivals relocated to the golden state, emerging victorious in a 34-31 shootout that saw six lead changes, all but one taking place after the Two Minute Warning in the First Half. It was an evenly-matched affair in which the home side simply managed to make enough plays down the stretch to put themselves in a position to win; a 6-Play, 82-Yard Drive from their own 9-Yard Line ending with a 7-Yard Score from Garoppolo to Pro-Bowl Tight End, George Kittle (78 REC, 967 YDS, 12.4 Y/R, 5 TD) gave them a 31-28 lead with just over six minutes left to play in the Fourth Quarter, and then following a Rams’ Field Goal, Garoppolo would engineer another lengthy drive, this time from their own 25-Yard Line, setting up Robbie Gould’s walk-off 33-Yard Field Goal to seize the day. In the end, it was from the Signal-Caller’s finest hour, completing 16-of-27 Passes for 248 Yards, a Touchdown and a pair of Interceptions, while also suffering Six Sacks, but the Running Game remained solid (119 Yards on 32 Carries), while the Defense shut down Los Angeles’ Ground Game (72 Yards on 24 Carries), and bended without breaking in the Second Half. Now the challenge is simple: win in Seattle, and they’re No. one in the NFC. Needless to say, this will tell us an awful lot about the 49ers, who haven’t won in the Pacific Northwest since 2011, losing eight consecutive meetings, including that aforementioned NFC Championship Game.
Meanwhile, this matchup is equally as significant for the Seahawks (11-4, 2nd in NFC West), who despite clinching a second straight trip to the Playoffs, really have no idea where they’ll be playing in a week’s time. Of course, if they manage to best the 49ers for the second time this season, then they’ll lay claim to the NFC West for the first time since 2016, though the highest that they can ascend is the No. Two Seed (thanks to a head-to-head loss against the New Orleans Saints), and even that will require some help from outside sources; in addition to a victory tonight, Seattle will also need a loss from the Green Bay Packers to move into the Second Seed, which of course carries that all-important First Round Bye. If both they and Green Bay prove victorious today, then they’ll be locked into the No. Three Seed, which means they’ll be hosting the Minnesota Vikings on Wild Card Weekend. However, in the event that they happen to fall to the Niners tonight, then they’ll drop into the No. Five Seed, which will book them a trip to either Green Bay or New Orleans. Yes, we know that the possibilities may appear to be endless here, but fortunately for Pete Carroll & Co. they are participating in the last game of the weekend, meaning they’ll know well ahead of time the fates of both the Packers and Saints before they set foot on the gridiron. If there is one particular scenario that the faithful in the Pacific Northwest should be rooting for, it’s the Seahawks capturing that Bye Week, for there isn’t a team in the Playoff Field more banged up than these guys. Seriously, the Injury Report reads more like a Census Report; fifteen different players were limited throughout practice this week, including the likes of Starting Defenders, Jadeveon Clowney (Core), Quandre Diggs (Ankle), Shaquill Griffin (Hamstring), Mychal Kendricks (Hamstring), Ezekiel Ansah (Neck), and Bobby Wagner (Ankle) each ranging from Doubtful to Questionable, while Offensive Linemen, Duane Brown (Biceps/Knee), George Fant (Illness), and Mike Iupati (Kneck) alongside leading Receiver, Tyler Lockett (Leg) are all in question of participating in Sunday’s Finale. And that doesn’t even speak to the crisis in the Backfield, where Tailbacks, Chris Carson (Hip) and Rashad Penny (Knee) have both been placed on Injured Reserve with various ailments, joining veteran Receiver, Josh Gordon (Suspension), whom was acquired midseason, only to be suspended once more after running afoul of the league’s Substance Abuse Policy. Seriously, folks, it’s gotten so bad in Seattle, that Carroll and General Manager, John Schneider, have been forced to bring back former Tailbacks, Robert Turbin, and Marshawn Lynch, with the latter coming out of retirement to rejoin the franchise he helped lead to back-to-back Super Bowl appearances. In the case of Lynch, this is really a rather remarkable story; after rushing for 6,347 Yards and Fifty-Seven Touchdowns from 2010 to 2015, the 33-Year Old opted to retire from the club following the 2015 campaign, eventually signing with his hometown Oakland Raiders for a two-year stint, only to call it quits once again. While many thought he was indeed done for good this time, news of Seattle’s pursuit of Lynch intensified following the team’s surprising 13-27 loss at home to the Arizona Cardinals last weekend, in which Carson was lost for the season with a hip injury. Lynch’s contract runs through Week 17 and the Playoffs, with his fate moving forward to be decided afterward. Basically, it appears that it’s going to be up to veteran Quarterback, Russell Wilson (66.4%, 3,877 YDS, 6.82 NY/A, 29 TD, 5 INT, 67.7 QBR), to put this team on his shoulders, which is something that we’ve all grown accustomed to him doing in 2019. After signing a massive, $ million extension in the Offseason, the 31-Year old has enjoyed the finest campaign of his stellar career, throwing career-low Five Interceptions, while guiding the Seahawks to a league-best Four Fourth Quarter Comebacks and Five Game-Winning Drives. Indeed, they’ve lived and died with performances this season, though it’s been far more of the former than the latter; Seattle became the first team in NFL History to win ten games by one score or fewer, only outscoring the opposition by a slim margin of 0.8 Points per Game. However, he’s been sacked a whopping forty-seven times, the most in the league in 2019, and nobody would imagine this matchup with the 49ers a favorable one considering the sheer volume of players that he could potentially be without. Wilson was dropped five times in their earlier meeting this season, an epic 27-24 victory on Monday Night Football, which coincidentally served as San Francisco’s first defeat of the term, and was sacked exactly as many times in last Sunday’s faceplant against Arizona. This one was really disappointing, folks, for any chance of the ‘Hawks controlling their own destiny went out the window as the struggling Cardinals ran off twenty unanswered points to take a 20-7 lead that they wouldn’t relinquish. The visitors did most of their damage with Backup Quarterback, Brett Hundley, at the helm in place of the injured Kyler Murray, totaling 412 Yards of Total Offense, rushing for a staggering 253, and controlling possession for a commanding 34:53. The hosts were anemic when they had the football, mustering a miserable 224 Total Yards on Thirteen First Downs, including 1-of-12 on Third Down, with Wilson managing to complete just 16-of-31 Attempts for 169 Yards and a Touchdown. At this point, there is a very strong argument to be made that Carroll should in fact sit as many of his ailing starters as possible, to ensure that many of them will be fresh for Wild Card Weekend. Seattle has been quite good on the road this season (7-1), and by risking them in an attempt to secure the Bye they could in fact do more harm then good. Again, this decision could be made much easier if both Green Bay and New Orleans prove victorious in their respective Season Finales.