Holding a two game lead in the conference and three games up in the NFC West, the Seattle Seahawks continue their flight for home field advantage throughout the playoffs against the rival San Francisco 49ers on Sunday afternoon at Candlestick Park.
Seattle’s staunch defense and smart, patient play from quarterback Russell Wilson have vaulted the 11-1 club atop the NFC, and Monday night’s 34-7 blowout victory over New Orleans has given the Seahawks room for error in the final four weeks of the season.
At 8-4, the 49ers have a slim one-game advantage over Philadelphia for the final Wild Card spot in the NFC, and are coming off two straight wins in which they let up one touchdown and a combined 388 total offensive yards. Quarterback Colin Kaepernick has also looked much sharper, with four touchdowns and no interceptions, while completing more than 60 percent of his passes in consecutive games for just the second time this season.
One of the players that helped Kaepernick breakout last season was receiver Michael Crabtree, who made his first appearance of the season in last week’s 23-13 over St. Louis with two catches for 68 yards. Crabtree sat out the first 11 games of the season due to a torn Achilles tendon, and last year was the first San Francisco receiver to total 1,000 or more yards since 2003.
Veteran Anquan Boldin has stepped up with Crabtree out, making 61 receptions for 822 yards and five touchdowns. In the last two weeks Boldin’s hauled in 14 balls for 192 yards and two scores.
Owners of the second best win streak in the NFL at seven, the Seahawks have whooped opponents 203-98 during the streak and boast the league’s best passing defense. Safety Earl Thomas and cornerback Richard Sherman have combined for 17 passes defended and eight interceptions, and on average opponents are netting 177.3 passing yards per game.
The 49ers have been equally impressive against the pass, ranking third with 206.2 yards per game, and allowing a total of 27 plays of 20-plus yards, also third best in the league. Seattle is first with 24 plays of 20 or more yards surrendered this season.
Wilson is one quarterback who could give the 49ers defense fits. He’s completed more than 70 percent of his passes in four straight and six total games this season. Wilson has also tossed seven more touchdowns (22) and one fewer interception (6) than Kaepernick.
Running backs are likely to play a major role in the outcome. Marshawn Lynch and Frank Gore have led a strong ground attack for Seattle and San Francisco, respectively. Lynch is second in the NFL with nine rushing touchdowns and sixth with 970 rushing yards, while Gore’s totaled 821 yards and eight scores.
Both teams are also exercising caution with their running backs. Gore was limited during Wednesday’s practice due to an ankle injury. Meanwhile, guard Mike Iupati sat out all of practice with a knee injury, and so did top defensive tackle Justin Smith with a bad shoulder.
Though uninjured, Lynch was rested on Wednesday, and the Seattle staff held out top receiver Golden Tate and receiver Percy Harvin with hip injuries. The Seahawks also sat defensive end Bruce Irvin with a groin injury, and while reserve corner Brandon Browner was limited it was his first practice in nearly three weeks.
Betting Odds: San Francisco favored by 3 points
Over/Under: 41 points
Time: 4:25 p.m. ET
TV Channel: FOX
Where To Watch Online: NFL Sunday Ticket
Prediction: San Francisco 14, Seattle 13