Seeking a fifth consecutive victory as well as a playoff berth, the Seattle Seahawks will travel to Santa Clara to face the San Francisco 49ers for a second time in three weeks.
To this point, Seattle has taken care of its own business by winning four straight games, including pivotal victories over Carolina and Minnesota. As they’ve stacked victories over the past month, the Seahawks have also received a ton of help as other contenders have slipped up. The Panthers, Eagles, and Redskins all lost their seventh game of the season last weekend, putting their respective seasons in peril with only three games left to play.
Thanks to the aforementioned performance by other contenders, the Seahawks can lock up a playoff spot simply by beating the 49ers on Sunday. Despite handing San Francisco in a 43-16 win at CenturyLink Field on December 2, however, doing it again on the road will be difficult against a familiar foe.
Winning their third game of the season, the 49ers used a fast start and stingy defense to beat the Broncos last weekend. Though their playoff aspirations died early in the year when quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo suffered a torn ACL, coach Kyle Shanahan’s team has continued to fight each week. With some momentum after a rare victory, they’ll want to make amends for their poor performance from a couple of weeks ago and avoid the Seahawks celebrating a playoff berth on their field.
With the Seahawks aiming to secure a wild card spot and the 49ers hoping to play spoiler, which five matchups will help determine who wins at Levis Stadium?
--Seahawks WR Tyler Lockett vs. 49ers CB Richard Sherman: When these two teams met in Week 13, all eyes were on Doug Baldwin facing off against his long-time college and NFL teammate Sherman. But with Baldwin spending the vast majority of his time running routes out of the slot, the two players weren’t matched up against one another very often. Instead, Sherman covered Lockett and David Moore most of the game, while also occasionally being stuck across from tackle George Fant flexed out wide. Baldwin missed last week’s game with a groin injury and may not see a ton of snaps on Sunday, making the contrasting battle between the speedy Lockett and physical Sherman a spectacle worth watching closely.
--Seahawks SS Bradley McDougald vs. 49ers TE George Kittle: Playing the best game of his young career, Kittle torched the Broncos for 210 receiving yards, including an 85-yard touchdown reception from quarterback Nick Mullens. Serving as the 49ers primary receiving threat, he leads all NFL tight ends with over 1,100 receiving yards and the Seahawks will have to prioritize double-teaming him. With that said, McDougald will likely be the defender who spends the most time in coverage against him, as the veteran safety will have to combat Kittle’s rare blend of size, athleticism, and play-making ability. Seattle held him in check in the first matchup between these teams, limiting him to 70 yards on six receptions, but it won’t be easy to replicate that success a second time, especially on the road.
--Seahawks RB Chris Carson vs. 49ers LB Fred Warner: Seahawks fans may only know Warner as the defender who had his shoe thrown by quarterback Russell Wilson two weeks ago. But as the replacement for former first-round pick Reuben Foster, who was released following his latest arrest last month, the rookie out of BYU leads the team with 96 total tackles through 13 games. He recorded eight tackles against Seattle in the first matchup between these two teams and will once again be tasked with trying to slow down Carson, who needs 206 yards over the final three games to reach the 1,000-yard mark for the season. The physical runner has performed well in two career games against San Francisco, rushing 33 times for 162 yards and 4.9 yards per carry.
--Seahawks DE Frank Clark vs. 49ers LT Joe Staley: After bulldozing Vikings guard Mike Remmers on a stunt, Clark found his way to Kirk Cousins in the backfield to set a new career-high with 11.0 sacks on Monday night. Set to earn a big pay day as he approaches free agency, he will be looking to expand on his career year with three games remaining, starting with an intriguing matchup against the often-overlooked Staley. As one of the last remaining standouts from the 49ers dominant teams under coach Jim Harbaugh, the six-time Pro Bowler continues to play at a high level protecting the blind side and will aim to keep Clark away from quarterback Nick Mullens. That’ll be easier said than done, as Clark got to the second-year signal caller three times in the first matchup between these teams.
--Seahawks RG Jordan Simmons vs. 49ers DT DeForest Buckner: Set to start his third game in place of injured right guard D.J. Fluker, Simmons has vastly exceeded expectations, holding his own against Aaron Donald of the Rams and Sheldon Richardson of the Vikings in his first two starts. The second-year guard will face another stiff test blocking the athletic, lengthy Buckner, who has quietly put together a sensational third NFL season in San Francisco. The former Oregon standout leads the 49ers with 9.0 sacks and 16 quarterback hits, but he’s also been stout against the run, recording 12 total tackles for loss through 13 games. He’s also played really well against the Seahawks during his short career, as he recorded a season-high seven tackles and sacked Wilson twice in Week 13.