The 2018 season saved its best for last for this young 49ers team.
Sunday’s game in Seattle starts a five-game stretch against four contending teams — the Broncos then a second with the Seahawks, both battling for Wild Card spots, then the Bears and Rams leading their respective divisions.
Seattle’s defensive overhaul has removed them from the elite perch they sat on for most of the past seven seasons. What they’ve done is shifted more responsibility to the offense, which has been effective because of their ability to run the ball once again.
The Seahawks currently have the top rushing offense in the NFL, averaging 147.1 yards per game. Unlike the Marshawn Lynch days, Seattle relies on a committee of Chris Carson, Mike Davis and Rashaad Penny — and occasionally Russell Wilson, as well.
This has brought balance back to the Wilson-lead unit, which has been held under 20 points just twice this season. Their ability to regularly put up a solid amount of points has been crucial since their defense, although still top-10 in scoring, is not the dominant force which had held nearly everyone to the high teens.
The Seahawks also hold onto the ball. They’re tied with the Rams for the fewest turnovers (9) and Wilson has thrown just five interceptions compared to 25 touchdowns. We know how inept the San Francisco defense has been at taking the ball away.
If Nick Mullens had difficulty in Tampa Bay, his second road start will be 10 times harder in the Emerald City atmosphere. No amount of Apple Music crowd noise will help Mullens simulate the “12th Man.”
However, because the Seahawk secondary doesn’t have the imposing figures it once did, Mullens could have some success if he’s the recipient of balance and protection. Matt Breida will have to take advantage of a mediocre run defense to give the 49ers any shot of winning this game. And the offensive line will need to neutralize defensive end Frank Clark, who is by far Seattle’s best pass rusher.
A key matchup will be the 49ers’ wide receivers versus the Seahawks’ cornerbacks.
Marquise Goodwin and Pierre Garçon will be out for the second week in a row, placing the onus on Dante Pettis and Kendrick Bourne. George Kittle will obviously draw the most attention, likely dealing with a mix of linebackers Bobby Wagner and Barkevious Mingo and big-body corner Tre Flowers. That means Pettis and Bourne have to win their one-on-one matchups, which Pettis was able to do last week in Tampa Bay.
Speaking of wide receiver-cornerback matchups, Richard Sherman will face the Seahawks for the first time in the NFL after spending his first seven seasons in the Seattle secondary as part of what was known as the “Legion of Boom.”
Sherman, who famously sent away then 49ers wideout Michael Crabtree in the 2015 NFC Championship Game, will likely spend significant time on Seattle’s receiving leader Tyler Lockett — when he’s not on savvy vet Doug Baldwin, that is. It is safe to assume that the three-time All-Pro defensive back will have an impact on this game game, but he will only be able to cover one receiver at a time.
The Seahawks are coming off of two good wins against Green Bay and Carolina. The 49ers just lost to Tampa Bay.
That basically sets the scene for Week 12.
I have to take Seattle 23-16 in this one.