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Game of the Week: Seahawks at 49ers
As recent as three seasons ago, the NFC West was the laughingstock of the NFL. All four teams finished with losing marks, with the Seahawks “winning” the division with seven victories.
San Francisco exemplified this dreadfulness. A loaded defense was negated by head coach Mike Singletary, who proved unqualified and inept for the position. Worse, former No. 1 overall pick Alex Smith seemed like a lost cause. The Niners’ 6-10 record marked the eighth straight non-winning season for the franchise.
While making noise with its upset of New Orleans in the Wild Card round, the forecast was not much sunnier in Seattle. The 2010 campaign was the Hawks’ third straight losing year, and with three-time Pro Bowler Matt Hasselbeck departing for Tennessee, the organization was without a viable commodity under center. And though he led the team to the playoffs in his first season at the helm, many in the Emerald City questioned if Pete Carroll was the right man for the job.
How times have changed. Once thought to be the black sheep of the NFC, the West division is now the conference’s bastion. Spurred by a stout defense, Arizona is fighting for a playoff spot at 7-5. Although their chances have been encumbered by a season-ending injury to Sam Bradford, the Rams have been no push-over, notching five wins on the season. The Niners, reigning conference champions, are in a position to defend their belt at 8-4, while the Seahawks are shooting for a top seed at 11-1. A Bay Area battle between the latter two serves as our WhatIfSports.com Game of the Week.
Following consecutive losses at the start of November, San Francisco has regained its mojo with wins over Washington and St. Louis. Moreover, in a year riddled with parity more than ever, there’s nothing aberrational concerning eight wins heading into the final month. HOWEVER, one can certainly question the Niners’ chances, or lack thereof, in January. For a look at the game log showcases a startling trend: San Francisco can’t beat the big boys, losing to Seattle, Indianapolis, Carolina and New Orleans. In fact, the Niners’ only triumph against a winning team came versus divisional foe Arizona. This weekend’s rendezvous with the Seahawks, a squad that laid the smackdown in the teams’ first meeting of the season, will be a litmus test for San Francisco’s postseason odds.
Some semblance of Colin Kaepernick will improve the team’s prospects. The defense has been the foundation for San Francisco’s fortunes the past few seasons, and the return of Aldon Smith cements this unit’s reputation heading into the winter. Likewise, in a pass-happy league, the 49ers remain one of the few attacks that can successfully move it on the ground (130.6 yards per outing). Alas, as Kaepernick goes, so go the Niners. In wins this season, the third-year signal caller owns 16 total scores versus three turnovers, averaging 227 passing yards per game and a 62.1 completion percentage. In losses? Not so much: a 2-to-8 TD/TO ratio, hitting just half of his intended targets for a scant 124 passing yards per contest. For San Francisco to challenge Seattle for the division throne, it’s imperative for Kaepernick to be at his best.
Seattle’s signal caller is proof that such security woes can be alleviated. Known for his proficiency as a game manager, Russell Wilson didn’t fit the bill in the Seahawks first seven games, plagued by Butterfingers Syndrome. Wilson was guilty of eight fumbles in that span, with five recovered by opponents. Given the Wisconsin product also had four picks in said time frame and it was fair to wonder if Wilson’s development had arrested.
The past four games have put those fears to rest. In the past month, Wilson has not put the pigskin on the ground. Better yet, Wilson has found the end zone 15 times in the past six contests, showcasing the aptitude needed to take his club to the Meadlowlands in January. Coupled with the ground stylings of Marshawn Lynch (80.8 yards per game), the Seahawks have more than enough firepower to be a threat on offense.
But can the defense maintain its quality of play? The Seahawks resistance is relinquishing just 284.5 yards per appearance, best in the NFL. Unfortunately, the secondary has taken a hit with suspensions to Brandon Browner and Walter Thurmond, and the stigma of drug-related issues hangs over the franchise. Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas continue to perform at an All-Pro level, and the front seven’s pressure is a major part of the pass protection’s success. Nevertheless, depth is at the utmost importance during the playoffs, an attribute the Seahawks suddenly find themselves deficient in heading into December.
So who comes out on top in the NFC West soiree? According to the award-winning WhatIfSports.com NFL simulation engine, the Seahawks emerge victorious 63.4 percent of the time by an average margin of 21-17. For the rest of this week’s projections, check below:
Please note: The Browns-Patriots, Panthers-Saints, Giants-Chargers, Cowboys-Bears, Falcons-Packers, Chiefs-Redskins, Seahawks-49ers, Texans-Jaguars, Vikings-Ravens, Raiders-Jets and Titans-Broncos games were resimulated on 12/5 to account for injuries and roster updates.
NFL Week 14
|@ Denver Broncos||70.5||26||Simulate Game|
|@ New England Patriots||66.0||22||Simulate Game|
|@ Baltimore Ravens||65.2||27||Simulate Game|
|@ New Orleans Saints||55.7||24||Simulate Game|
|St. Louis Rams||47.1||17||Boxscore|
|@ Arizona Cardinals||52.9||18||Simulate Game|
|@ Pittsburgh Steelers||52.7||23||Simulate Game|
|@ Cincinnati Bengals||52.3||22||Simulate Game|
|@ Philadelphia Eagles||52.1||24||Simulate Game|
|New York Giants||49.2||25||Boxscore|
|@ San Diego Chargers||50.8||26||Simulate Game|
|@ Jacksonville Jaguars||48.3||19||Simulate Game|
|@ Green Bay Packers||46.5||23||Simulate Game|
|@ New York Jets||43.7||17||Simulate Game|
|@ Tampa Bay Buccaneers||42.2||23||Simulate Game|
|@ Chicago Bears||42.0||23||Simulate Game|
|@ San Francisco 49ers||36.6||17||Simulate Game|
|Kansas City Chiefs||67.2||25||Boxscore|
|@ Washington Redskins||32.8||19||Simulate Game|
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