The time has arrived for fans of the Seattle Seahawks to talk about the playoffs, and in particular the Wild Card showdown against the San Francisco 49ers. For the Seahawks it is an opportunity to show the rest of the NFL they belong, and that it is not a fluke that they are in the postseason in what was supposed to be a rebuilding year.
On the flip side, for the Niners it is an opportunity for many of them to try to forget about the storms taking place in California, and to enjoy the friendly confines of Levi’s Stadium, which reportedly has electricity, unlike some members of the 49ers.
Yo @PGE4Me I’ve been without power going on 4 days. A lil help would be appreciated thanks. Just trying to prepare for something this weekend— George Kittle (@gkittle46) January 13, 2023
With any luck, Pacific Gas & Electric will power down both the offense and defense of the 49ers, allowing the Seahawks the opportunity to travel east in the Divisional Round to take on the Philadelphia Eagles. However, discussing the outcome of the Hawks and Niners game is getting ahead of things, as the purpose of posing five questions to the opposing team is to preview the game. So, without wasting any further time, here are the questions that were posed to Tyler Austin of Niners Nation, along with his responses.
1. The matchup Saturday will obviously be the third time this season these two teams have faced off. The Niners have dominated the first two, in particular on the defensive side of the ball. Will this game be more even, or will it play out similar to the first two matchups?
I’m inclined to believe that this game might feel much tighter than the first two by the virtue of facing a divisional opponent for the third time in the playoffs always seems to bring out the best in both competitors. Of course, as you pointed out, the two previous games weren’t particularly close and Trey Lance broke his ankle in the first matchup, while Brock Purdy played through a strained oblique in the second.
In fact, the Niners are the healthiest they’ve ever been heading into the playoffs under Kyle Shanahan (or maybe ever). Only Lance and Emmanuel Moseley will be missing on Saturday from the Week 1 lineup. Considering the injury report looked downright sparse that’s definitely a big check in the column of a possible repeat performance against the ‘Hawks.
Furthermore, Seattle’s well documented difficulty stopping the ground game and tight ends would seem to spell disaster when the two hottest players in San Francisco are currently Christian McCaffrey and George Kittle. Kittle’s heater actually started back in Lumen Field on December 15th with 93 yards and two TDs, and he’s racked up another 172 yards and five trips to the end zone since.
So, I say all this to say, I’m willing to lean towards the likelihood that the Niners come out and play pretty similarly to the previous two times these teams clashed in 2022, but wouldn’t guarantee it because Pete’s a wily old dog and you can never count those guys out.
2. One of the biggest issues for the Seahawks this season is that the top two receiving targets in DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett are fantastic, but when opponents have been able to limit the production of the third receiver and tight ends, the offense has ground to a halt. The Niners in particular have been able to completely remove the third receiving threats from the Seattle game plans in both games. What makes the back seven of the Niners so good?
Simply, Fred Warner. Fred Warner single-handedly elevates the entire back seven by existing. There’s no other player in the NFL doing what he’s doing and it unlocks nearly everything about what makes this defense so damn good.
His ability to shut down the middle of the field in the passing game, relying on his defensive back instincts from his early days, has altered how quarterbacks expect to attack a defense. You combine this with Dre Greenlaw, a player who has taken a massive leap in coverage in his own right, and you might have one of the most dynamic linebacking duos in a decade. To be clear, they aren’t just fast and lean to keep up with whoever’s running across their face. No, no, no, they also drop the hammer with the best of them.
That’s where the rest of the back seven has really shone this year, as well. Watching this defense on tape looks a bit like a nature documentary in which a wounded gazelle gets surrounded by a pack of angry lions. Even if a pass gets completed over the middle, again and again, three or four players swarm to the ball carrier. There’s a reason the Niners have caused 10 fumbles and lead the league in turnover differential.
3. It’s not uncommon to hear that postseason experience is important in the NFL, but both of these teams will start a quarterback taking their first ever postseason snaps. Does that inexperience worry Niners fans?
I think starting a rookie quarterback taken last overall with only five starts under his belt in a home playoff game would worry just about anyone. However, given all that information, I’d venture a guess if you’d asked any fan about how they feel about the four year starter out of Iowa State that they’d be ready to rock with Brock.
His career started with a baptism by fire when he entered the Dolphins game after Jimmy Garoppolo broke his foot. A game billed as the biggest test on the Niners schedule since Christian McCaffrey’s arrival revamped the offense. The expected drop off from starter to backup just wasn’t there, especially impressive as it was truly a move from backup to third string.
By all accounts, he rolled onto a team with many well-established skill position players, he immediately earned their respect, he outplayed multi-year vet Nate Sudfeld with a guaranteed contract for a job, he won the Arizona Gatorade player of the Year in high school, and he led the Niners to five straight victories to close the season. Seemingly, he’s just got that irrational confidence thing, like all the best athletes should, so why shouldn’t we all be irrationally confident in him?
4. While on the field both teams will be starting a quarterback playing in the postseason for the first time, on the sideline will be a matchup of two of three coaches in NFL history to lose a Super Bowl after letting a double digit fourth quarter lead slip away. With that, and Shanhan’s role as offensive coordinator in the 28-3 collapse in mind, how big of a fourth quarter lead would the 49ers need to hold in order to feel confident?
Oh, I don’t know, a million. Niners fans have been burned before. They would tell you that no lead feels safe until the clocks hit triple zero. I have an addition to your list: The 10 point lead the Niners let evaporate in last year’s championship game.
We clearly have a lot of reasons to be weary. On the other hand, you do have to go by how the game’s playing out at the moment. Did things get a little worrisome when the Seahawks got the game to eight points in the fourth quarter back in December? Sure. But did I feel more confident then than when the Rams had the ball down two scores in the previous January? Absolutely. If the Niners control the momentum the way they have previously, there will be much less flop sweat to wipe off my brow by the final whistle.
5. DraftKings Sportsbook has the spread for this game at 9.5 points, which is big, but is a spread that isn’t hard to understand why it is the largest of any of the six games this weekend. What’s your prediction for the game, and will the Niners cover?
I have to agree. 9.5 feels big for any game, particularly a playoff matchup. No matter the history and all the little factors, I’d have a hard time ever taking that many points, even if I predict the Niners win by more than that, which I might. Four out of Brock Purdy’s five starts have resulted in over 30 points for the offense. The lone outlier? The Seattle Seahawks. The oblique strain held him back in that one, no question. With Brock fully healthy and the offense in a groove, we know their ceiling. The defense has looked shaking down the stretch, but the playoff atmosphere should reinvigorate them.
So, I do think the Niners will win, I hope it will be relatively stress-free, and I pray no one will get injured.
49ers 34 Seahawks 20
This post is brought to you by DraftKings Sportsbook.