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Seahawks vs. 49ers preview: Seattle can clinch NFC West with season sweep of division rival

Six days after making a statement to the rest of the NFL, the Seattle Seahawks will have a chance to do it yet again.

Seattle will finish its season series against the rival San Francisco 49ers on Sunday in Candlestick Park at 1:25 p.m. The Seahawks are playing their best football of the season over the past three weeks, including a 34-7 destruction of the New Orleans Saints on Monday night. San Francisco has been up and down all season, but is coming off of two dominating wins over the Washington Redskins and St. Louis Rams.

This will be the toughest road matchup the Seahawks have had since Week 5 in Indianapolis, and perhaps second toughest all year behind Week 1 against the Carolina Panthers. It appears the Seahawks have turned their constant road woes this year with five wins already – and it’s looking more and more like they won’t have to on the road to reach the Super Bowl anyway – but they can certainly reaffirm that perception with another big win on Sunday. A sixth road win would be a franchise record.

Last meeting between the two teams in Week 2, Seattle put a 29-3 beat down on the 49ers in CenturyLink Field. But these two teams look quite different than they did then, particularly on the offensive side of the ball.

The 49ers got a huge boost last week when 2012’s leading receiver Michael Crabtree played for the first time all season after suffering a torn Achilles. Crabtree caught two passes for 68 yards last week against the Rams, and is only going to get better as time goes on. He provides big playmaking ability down the field for the 49ers, who were desperately needing a receiver to line up opposite of Anquan Boldin.

Despite the blowout, Seattle’s offense was still sluggish in the September meeting. The Seahawks only gained 290 yards, with only 8 completions from Russell Wilson. Since then, Seattle’s offense has become much more explosive as one of the best big play passing offenses in the NFL, to go along with an always strong run game. Percy Harvin will make that offense even more explosive when he returns at full capacity, but it is unclear if he will play Sunday.

To be successful offensively, the Seahawks will have to keep doing exactly what they did against the Saints. A healthy offensive line kept  Wilson fairly clean against New Orleans, who came into the game tied for the NFL lead in sacks. When the Saints blitzed, Wilson picked them apart with his typical accuracy and quick decision making.

Seattle will need a similar performance this weekend. The 49ers have some fearsome players in their front seven – Aldon Smith, Justin Smith, Patrick Willis, NaVorro Bowman – that could cause plenty of trouble for the Seahawks.  

Defensively, the focus has to be keeping Colin Kaepernick in the pocket. While he has been a bit better the past two weeks, for the majority of the season Kaepernick has struggled to generate passing offense on straight drawbacks. He obviously can make plays with his legs, and receivers like Boldin, Crabtree and tight end Vernon Davis aren’t those that you can cover forever if Kaepernick is extending plays with his legs. Left tackle Joe Staley and guard Mike Iupati don’t appear likely to play, so the Seahawks should test the 49ers offensive line depth early and often.

Frank Gore is still the bread and butter of the 49ers offense, so keeping containment on Kaepernick could help Seattle focus on shutting down Gore. When the Seahawks defense has forced opponents to be one dimensional, it has been very successful.

Seattle has the upper hand in the rivalry for now, but the 49ers are going to be fired up playing at home after two consecutive blowouts against the Seahawks. Going on the road after a Monday night game is never easy either, but Pete Carroll has had his team meet every challenge so far in 2013. This weekend could be just another stepping stone in a special season.  

Photo Credit: Elaine Thompson / Associated Press  

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Nathaniel Reeves

Nathaniel Reeves is a journalism student at the University of Washington, currently covering sports for The UW Daily in addition to Sports Out West. He has been closely following Seattle sports his entire life.
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