Into the Spotlight
The NFC West spent the better part of the last decade or so as a football wasteland. Occasionally one team would stand out while the other three raced the AFC West to decide which division would be the WAC conference of the NFL. When Seattle won the division two years ago with a 7-9 record, the race to the bottom was over. The NFC West won.
Ask any recovering junky, or listen to any ballad churned out by contemporary Nashville: everyone hits bottom eventually. The NFC West, most of it anyway, brushed off the dead leaves and used needles, crawled out from under the bridge and made itself respectable. The San Francisco 49ers and the Seattle Seahawks are now two of the league's best teams. Sunday's game between the two squads means more than just determining the draft order.
San Francisco, at 10-3-1, is currently the second-best team in the NFC. Seattle is right behind at 9-5. The 49ers secured a playoff spot already. The Seahawks appear to be locks for at least a Wild Card spot, and a win this week would clinch a postseason berth.
Gamblers will recall the last time these two teams met. It was a Week 7 game that has the distinction of being the only notable Thursday night game of the season. Sitting on a 13-6 lead, 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh declined a safety at the end the game. The spread for that game was 7.5 points, and most of the action was on San Francisco.
By now, you know that the coaches, crazy Jim Harbaugh and super chill bro Pete Carroll, deserve much of the responsibility for turning these two teams around.
The Seahawks and 49ers boast two of the league's toughest defenses. Only one team allows more yards per game, on average, than these two. (That team: the Steelers.) Both the 49ers and the Seahawks are allowing an average of 15.6 points per game, tied for the stingiest units in the league. Both defenses are loaded with talent from front to back. Seattle cornerback and unofficial ADHD spokesperson Richard Sherman has a case for the Defensive Player of the Year, but not as strong as Aldon Smith and his 19.5 sacks.
Each team's offense happens to be pretty good, too. Both average around 25 points per game thanks to speedy young quarterbacks and workhorse running backs sitting comfortably behind mauling offensive lines. It's an option lovers' dream come true.
The last time these two teams met, the 49ers still had Alex Smith under center. With Colin Kaepernick there now, this game could be a little faster than the last one. It adds another entertaining dimension to the gritty defensive play. Seattle has yet to lose a home game this season, including bouts against the Patriots and Packers. That might be the difference for a pair of NFC West teams evenly matched and finally off the league's undercard.
Prediction, Seahawks win 17-13
Cast of Characters
Colin Kaepernick, Tortoise Enthusiast
Do we give Colin Kaepernick credit for making Jim Harbaugh look brilliant or is it the other way around? The answer is WHO CARES because I’m riding with the tortoise enthusiast for life.
Jim Harbaugh, Addict
Did you know that last month Jim Harbaugh went cold turkey and gave up gave up chewing tobacco and drinking 5-Diet Cokes a day? Why, I'm sure that hasn't made him irritable in the workplace at all! Good for him getting healthier, and now let's all say a prayer for the helpless 49ers staffer that Harbaugh is no doubt berating right this very second.
Aldon Smith, Artist
Still the greatest celebration in sports.
Russell Wilson, Adorable
He's just so perfect, you guys! That's the official analysis.
Pete Carroll, Genius
From October: "Next to the Coaching Gods, Pete Carroll seems like a lost volleyball coach who's had too much coffee." Pete Carroll is the greatest.
I went to Seattle earlier this year, and can report the following: It really is rainy and gray for roughly 80 percent of the time, and it's wonderful. The city itself is clean, the people are nice, and really if you can get past the rain, it's gotta be one of the most underrated cities in America. Like San Francisco, but less expensive. Shawn Kemp owns a bar downtown. When I went on a Friday night, it was almost entirely empty and low key, and they played exclusively hip-hop from the mid-to-late 1990s, officially making this the greatest bar on the face of the earth. I also went to a UW game at Century Link field, and can confirm it's probably the nicest football stadium in America. I can't imagine how much better it would be for a Seahawks game. There is also a bar on the way to the stadium that features the Hot Dog King of Seattle. He made me a Polish Sausage with jalapenos, cream cheese, and mini potato sticks--Seattle is great for a lot of reasons, but goddamn, nothing from my trip was more memorable than the miracle of that jalepenos, sausage, and cream cheese combination. YOU MUST GO TO SEATTLE AND TRY IT ASAP.
Really, we should all move to Seattle and hang out at Shawn Kemp's bar for the rest of our lives.
Therein concludes my report on Seattle.
Ask the Locals: Niners
Jim Harbaugh and Pete Carroll will not be exchanging Christmas cards this year
During his Wednesday press conference, Harbaugh was asked about the "hallmark" of a Pete Carroll-coached team. Harbaugh's response: "I don’t remember getting any cards from him … at the holidays." The 49ers media asked Pete Carroll about Christmas cards and got a bit of a snicker out of Carroll. It seems like the once heated USC-Stanford rivalry has turned into lame jokes.
NFC West to the rest of the NFL: How do you like us now?
The NFC West has been the butt of NFL jokes for most of its existence. Even as the division has sent its fair share of teams to the Super Bowl, people are more inclined to remember the 7-9 Seahawks representing the division in 2010. Well, things are changing. The 49ers secured their second straight ten-win season, and the Seahawks have a great chance at reaching ten wins. The division is also leading the league in win percentage. Suck on that NFL.
Ask the Locals: Seahawks
Jim Harbaugh forbade his wife from talking to Pete Carroll at the NFL League meetings.
Pete Carroll shared a story on local radio this week where he recollected a time in which Harbaugh's wife approached him at the league meetings and said, "I'm not supposed to be talking to you but I'm gonna do it anyway." Carroll and Sarah Harbaugh chatted it up until Jim reluctantly came over to talk, and apparently the former Chicago Bear (Harbaugh) brought up a time when Carroll's Jets team were allegedly trying to listen in to their huddle (Pete is perhaps a cheater or Jim is quite possibly paranoia-stricken, perhaps both). Carroll also implied that Jim was drunk at the party. I literally do not know what to make of this story by Carroll other than it seems obvious the two don't like each other very much and Carroll is publicly trolling Jim for telling his wife not to talk to him.
Russell Wilson visits Seattle Children's hospital every week, like clockwork.
In taking on a leadership role with the Seahawks, Wilson finds time in an already hectic late-NFL-season schedule to visit Seattle's Childrens' Hospital every single week, with his wife, with teammates that he brings along, or by himself. One thing Wilson's father told Russell was that "there's a King in every crowd" and the younger Wilson has certainly taken that to heart with his leadership and philanthropic endeavors.
Assessing the Bodily Injuries
1. Justin Smith, 49ers DE, maybe not
Stunningly, the 49ers are keeping Smith's elbow injury under wraps. He hasn't been practicing so his odds of playing aren't great.
2. Marshawn Lynch, Seahawks RB, will play
Lynch has been dealing with the back injury for a while now and the limited participation in practice just means the Seahawks are prepping him for their playoff run.
3. David Akers, 49ers K, will play
Akers' pride may be hurt more than anything else. He's been struggling. He's also been playing through a pelvis injury for at least a month. Remember that if/when this game comes down to a field goal.
4. Sidney Rice, Seahawks WR, probably will
The Seahawks will likely need to match the 49ers' explosiveness, which means Sidney Rice needs to get his sore foot and knee in order.
Gentlemen, Place Your Bets
In 140-character Conclusion...
Just finished writing my last love letter to Brett Favre. Hope the Mayans were wrong. :(
RT if you scored against the Bills defense.
What the hell? RT @FBALL_Andrea: Greeaaaat. MT @gerrydulac CB Keenan Lewis stepped in hole in practice field and injured knee.
Here's my proof that Rex Ryan's a great coach: He dragged Mark Sanchez to the AFC Championship Game twice.
"Wow, those two Titan players are WIDE open!" - Mark Sanchez