NFL Preview - San Francisco (7-6) at Seattle (9-4)
By Michael Rushton, Contributing NFL Editor
(SportsNetwork.com) - On Thanksgiving night, the Seattle Seahawks dealt the rival San Francisco 49ers' playoff chances a huge blow.
Meeting for the second time in three weeks, the Seahawks can just about finish off the Niners and better their own standing in the race for the playoffs as the two NFC West residents clash on Sunday in Seattle.
San Francisco had won three straight and was keeping pace in a tight divisional race ahead of a holiday matchup at home with Seattle. The Niners were in no mood to celebrate afterwards as they were held to just 164 yards of offense and turned the ball over three times in a 19-3 loss.
San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick struggled to just 121 yards passing and was picked off twice by Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman.
The Seahawks, meanwhile, got 236 yards passing from Russell Wilson and he threw a touchdown pass to Robert Turbin, while running back Marshawn Lynch ran for 104 yards to compliment the defensive shutdown.
Seattle has won four of its past five versus the Niners, including playoffs, and three straight at home. Of course, the Seahawks defeat the 49ers 23-17 in last season's NFC Championship Game before besting Denver in the Super Bowl.
San Francisco failed to get on track this past Sunday despite visiting an Oakland team that had just one victory on the season. The offense again struggled and the Raiders controlled the clock in picking up a 24-13 win.
Kaepernick went 18-for-33 for 174 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions for the 49ers, who failed to reach 20 points scored in a game for the sixth time in seven outings.
Oakland outgained San Francisco 330-248.
"We didn't play well enough to win," San Francisco head coach Jim Harbaugh said. "The Raiders made plays and got stops in crucial situations."
At 7-6, the Niners are two games behind second-place Seattle and 3 1/2 behind the NFC West-leading Arizona Cardinals. That has San Francisco on the verge of missing the playoffs for the first time in Harbaugh's four seasons, with the club having reached at least the NFC title game in his first three years.
Seattle has used a solid defensive effort and enough offense to rip off three straight victories and six in its past seven. The Seahawks stayed in the win column last weekend, picking up a 24-14 road win over the Philadelphia Eagles.
Wilson threw a pair of touchdown passes and also ran for a score, while Lynch rushed 23 times for 86 yards -- going over 1,000 yards for the fourth season in a row. Lynch and Doug Baldwin both caught scoring passes, with Baldwin totaling five receptions for 97 yards.
"We're high on confidence because we put the work in during the week," said Wilson.
The Seahawks' defense, meanwhile, held Chip Kelly's fast-paced Eagles offense to just 139 yards and allowed the Seattle offense to hold the ball for a franchise-record 41 minutes and 56 seconds.
"This is the way we want to play. It hasn't been that way all season long, but it has seemed to come together here," said Seattle head coach Pete Carroll. "We'll try to ride it. It's not how you start, it's how you finish and we're going to see if we can finish in good fashion."
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
San Francisco's struggles have run side-by-side with Kaepernick, and the quarterback faces a tough challenge in trying to get on track.
The 49ers are 15-1 when Kaepernick has posted a passer rating of 100 or better, including playoffs. But he has been held under that mark in seven straight games and has five interceptions to just two touchdown passes in his last three.
Kaepernick hasn't thrown for more than 300 yards in seven consecutive games and has been held under 200 in three of the past four.
"I don't think I could be too hard on myself," said Kaepernick. "I have a very high expectation for everything I do. And when I go out and compete, I expect myself to make every play. And when I don't, it is frustrating for myself. So, to me, it's something that I have to be able to use that frustration in a different way to make sure that I'm productive when I'm out there."
One way to be productive would be to keep the ball out of Sherman's hands.
"I'd say he's one of (the toughest cornerbacks to face). He does a very good job at what he's coached to do and it makes it tough on our receivers, makes it tough on quarterbacks," said Kaepernick.
The Seahawks' defense as a whole has been tough as of late. Seattle has not allowed more than 204 yards in each of its past three games and ranks first in both total defense (274.5 yards per game) and pass defense (190.4 YPG).
Seattle has outscored its opponents 62-20 in the past three weeks and is giving up 18.1 points per game, second best in the NFL, while recording eight interceptions in the last seven games.
"In general, guys understand what is asked of them so that they understand the scheme really well," said Carroll. "They know what their responsibilities are ... to the point of that they can go to the next level of what the offense is doing, the strategy, tactics that they're deploying, and then take all of that information and make use of it."
Seattle's secondary will try to shut down Niners receiver Anquan Boldin, who leads the team with 72 catches and is 103 yards shy of his seventh career 1,000-yard season.
Wilson, meanwhile, is 3-0 at home versus the Niners, including playoffs, with a 103.9 passer rating. He has 37 touchdowns to 11 picks in 24 career starts at home.
Though San Francisco is without injured linebackers NaVarro Bowman and Patrick Willis, outside rusher Aldon Smith has six sacks in his last six versus the Seahawks, including two in the last meeting in Seattle. Rookie linebacker Aaron Lynch has a sack in five of his past seven and inside LB Chris Borland, also a rookie, has 91 tackles and two picks in his previous seven games.
However, fellow linebacker Ahmad Brooks had a string of 60 straight starts come to an end versus the Raiders because he missed a team meeting earlier in the week. and did not play in the game despite being active.
San Francisco also is hoping that cornerback Chris Culliver can play after hurting his knee versus the Raiders, while Seahawks center Max Unger is looking to return after a three-game absence caused by a high-ankle sprain.
Rumors of Harbaugh's possible offseason departure from the Niners continue to grow louder as the club has struggled and the coach desperately needs Kaepernick to turn things around should the club keep its faint playoff chances alive.
A road game in Seattle isn't the best place for that to happen and Carroll isn't ready to take the Niners lightly.
"We don't see this game any different -- we see the same players, coaches, style, and we remember what's going on and how they've been," noted Seattle's coach. "They're very close to being how they need to be at the end of the year and nobody knows how this story is going to be written at this point. We count on them being a very difficult team to play as always and nothing has changed."
That should hold true for Seattle as well, with Wilson staying perfect at home in his career versus the Niners.
Sports Network predicted outcome: Seahawks 24, 49ers 16
12/14 09:37:56 ET