After San Francisco’s incredible run last season and considering the fact that they ended the regular season with the only winning record in the NFC West, many thought they were a shoo-in to repeat as division champions. However, the division that was widely considered the worst in the NFL for several years is, at least so far in 2012, one of , in not the best in the league. Three teams are currently tied atop the West standings at 4-2, including Seattle, San Francisco and Arizona, while St. Louis is just one game back at 3-3. So with the Seahawks visiting the 49ers tonight, needless to say there’s a lot on the line as each club vies for the West lead.
The 49ers have been as good as advertised at 4-2, although they are coming off their worst loss in the Jim Harbaugh era as they went down at home 26-3 to the defending Super Bowl champion Giants. Still, the Niners are coming into tonight’s West battle with one of the toughest defenses in the league (2nd best against the pass) and the number one ranked rushing attack in the NFL (176.8 YPG). After allowing just three total points in the previous two contests, the 49ers defense was finally exposed last week against New York, but with the amount of talent they have on that side of the ball including their leader, linebacker Patrick Willis, don’t expect San Fran to get gashed too badly on a consistent basis.
Seattle has won two straight, including last week’s thrilling comeback home victory against New England 24-23. It was arguably the Hawks’ best offense showing of the season and a game that finally opened up the playbook for rookie QB Russell Wilson. The Seahawks also bring a top notch ground game into this matchup with Marshawn Lynch, who has racked up 549 yards rushing so far this season. Seattle’s front seven has been solid against the rush as well, ranking second in the league, giving up just 70 yards per game. This is something the Seahawks will need to continue to do well against the powerful San Fran ground attack.
This matchup may very well come down to the run game for each team. Both teams need to run the ball to be successful and to set up their respective offenses. Harbaugh’s West Coast style relies heavily on the run and play-action passing and in the same way, Seattle needs to be able to run to take the pressure off Wilson and the air attack, which is ranked 31st in the NFL in yards per game. What’s interesting though is that both teams also possess strong run defenses, which could counteract each other’s run games.
I think what will ultimately decide this game is the environment. San Francisco has the edge in my book simply because they are at home, a place which it did lose badly last week, but a place where Seattle may struggle. The Seahawks have been undoubtedly amazing at home, (3-0 with wins against Dallas, Green Bay and New England) but have been a completely different team on the road (1-2 with losses to Arizona and St. Louis).
The 49ers should prevail tonight, but the seven-point spread favoring them seems a bit high, especially for a game that will likely turn into a grind-it-out ground battle. Take the Niners to win, but the Seahawks to cover +7 points tonight.