Thanksgiving Day’s crowning game features the best rivalry in the NFL today. The defending Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks face off with their arch-enemy San Francisco 49ers – who have advanced to at least the NFC Championship game each of the last three seasons – in a showdown with massive playoff implications. Having not battled since last January’s NFC title game, the teams will square off twice in an 18-day span.
Seattle is coming off a convincing 19-3 victory over NFC West leader Arizona, while the 49ers struggled at home with Washington before prevailing 17-13. The two adversaries are tied for second place in the standings at two games behind Arizona, which also means, more importantly, that they are also tied for the NFC’s second wild card spot. Thursday’s victor gains the inside track to the playoffs, while the loser will have difficulty advancing at all.
Both teams find themselves in similar states with decent kicking games, struggling offenses, and wounded defenses that are getting healthier, so let’s take a look at how these foes stack up against one another.
49ers offense vs. Seahawks defense
San Francisco has endured a number of absences on its offensive line, including center Daniel Kilgore (broken ankle in Week 7) and right tackle Anthony Davis (concussion in Week 11). Right guard Alex Boone, who held out in a contract dispute until the final week of training camp, has taken some time to get back into game shape, hurting both pass protection and the running attack.
Strong-armed quarterback Colin Kaepernick has struggled with his accuracy (92.1 quarterback rating, 61.7% completion percentage) and has not been as effective running the ball this season (4.5 yards per carry, down from 5.7 and 6.5 the previous two years). Earl Thomas and the Seahawks defense will look to contain the 49ers’ running game and force Kaepernick to complete short throws.
Seahawks offense vs. 49ers defense
After throwing for more than 200 yards in 10 games last season (plus another with 199 yards), Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson has done so only three times in 11 games this year. The Seahawks lead the league in rushing and they will continue to focus on the ground game led by running back Marshawn Lynch, who ranks 4th in the league with 852 rushing yards, and Wilson (14th with 644).
Despite a number of injuries to San Francisco defenders, including linebackers NaVorro Bowman (still recovering from offseason knee surgery) and Patrick Willis (out since Week 6 and now on injured reserve with a chronic toe injury), this unit is still one of the best in the league. The defense showed visible improvement last week against Washington with the return of pass-rushing linebacker Aldon Smith. Expect the 49ers to load the box in an effort to shut down the running game, daring Seattle to beat them through the air where the Seahawks have been much less effective.
Both sides featured stellar units in 2013, but have fallen back this season ‒ especially on runbacks; The Seahawks rank 30th in kickoff return average, while the 49ers are lagging at 28th in punt return average. With Seattle’s Steven Hauschka and San Francisco’s Phil Dawson still rating as solid place kickers, the special teams race is neck-and-neck now that the Seahawks no longer have their key kick return weapon, Percy Harvin.
The 49ers have home-field advantage in this game, and the Seahawks haven’t won at San Francisco since 2008. Yet the Niners are only 3-2 in their new abode, Levi’s Stadium. This an even matchup between two flawed but potentially excellent teams who do not like each other. It will be physical, it will be intense and it will be a lot of fun to watch. Wilson’s superior decision-making should be the difference in this one.
Seahawks-49ers Thanksgiving Prediction: Seattle 23, San Francisco 20
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