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Colin Kaepernick vs. Russell Wilson to stay out of NFC West basement

Colin Kaepernick's and Russell Wilson's teams are a combined 4-8 as the quarterbacks have struggled with parts of their game this season. AP Photo, Getty Images

NFL history has been littered with great quarterback rivalries. Did you have Roger Staubach or Terry Bradshaw? Joe Montana or Dan Marino? Were you rocking a Troy Aikman jersey or did you fancy another No. 8 in Steve Young? And did Tom Brady's penchant for winning Super Bowls despite being mired in controversy leave you, ahem, deflated as a Peyton Manning supporter?

These days, the latest rivalry’s epicenter is located between the Seattle Seahawks'Russell Wilson and the San Francisco 49ers' Colin Kaepernick. True, both teams are struggling at 2-4 heading into Thursday’s prime-time matchup at Levi’s Stadium but Wilson remains the yin to Kaepernick’s yang, and vice versa. Unless you’re Green Bay Packers linebacker Clay Matthews.

“You ain’t Russell Wilson, bro,” Matthews yelled at Kaepernick earlier this season, jabbing him literally as well as physically.

No, no one is. Then again, no one is Kaepernick either. And we’re not so sure they’d trade places with each other after an uneven first six games this season. A look, then, at where the once-future faces of the league reside before renewing their rivalry…

What's their biggest issue?

Gutierrez (Kaepernick): Where do we start with Kaepernick, and in which week of the season are we using as a point of reference? And therein lies the answer -- consistency and chemistry. After a brutal two-game stretch against the Arizona Cardinals and Green Bay Packers in which he threw five interceptions, including two pick-sixes, the Niners scaled back their offense and started games against the New York Giants and Baltimore Ravens with short, safe passes to build rhythm and regain confidence from his wideouts. It worked, albeit against suspect secondaries. The Seahawks’ Legion of Boom is an entirely different animal, one that has owned Kaepernick in his career. Can Kaepernick maintain his new-found consistency?

Kapadia (Wilson): Wilson is taking sacks at a remarkable rate. According to ESPN Stats & Information, he’s been sacked on 11.2 percent of his dropbacks, the highest mark in the league and the worst percentage of his career. Like the rest of the Seahawks, Wilson has failed to finish late in games. The team has blown fourth-quarter leads in every loss this season. Wilson is averaging just 5.70 yards per dropback in the fourth quarter. That ranks 27th out of 33 qualifying quarterbacks. Overall, the Seahawks’ offense is averaging 17.67 PPG, which ranks tied for 28th.

How did they spend the offseason?

Gutierrez (Kaepernick): A tireless worker, Kaepernick is known for hitting the gym as soon as the Niners’ season ends. The winter and early spring of 2015 was no exception as Kaepernick spent the early part of the offseason in Arizona working on his fitness at the EXOS facility and with two-time league MVP Kurt Warner on his pocket presence, his throwing mechanics and his mindset as a pocket passer. Yes, it set off alarms, given that Kaepernick’s skill set looks nothing like that of Warner’s, but you had to at least respect Kaepernick wanting to broaden his horizons, no? Well, in the past few weeks coach Jim Tomsula said the Niners are not a “drop-back” team, before Kaepernick said he was not “huge” on mechanics. Wait, what?

Kapadia (Wilson): Wilson was in the headlines constantly in the months following the Seahawks’ Super Bowl loss to the Patriots. He dished on his budding romance with singer Ciara, attended a party at the White House and signed a four-year, $87.6 million contract extension that will keep him in Seattle. From a football perspective, Wilson spent time working on his speed and elusiveness. Given what we’ve seen through the first six games, perhaps he had a hunch that he’d be called on to escape pressure even more this season.

Why will they turn it around?

Gutierrez (Kaepernick): Another revelation by Kaepernick? That Tomsula’s new coaching staff is not asking him to do things out of his “character,” inferring not only that former coach Jim Harbaugh was making him act like something he was not, but he also feels more comfortable in his heavily-tattooed skin under the more mellow mien of Tomsula. As such, he can relax and just, well, play. Yes, Harbaugh encouraged the same, just in a different manner. And in recent weeks, Kaepernick has responded, getting it done on the field and in the locker room by regaining the confidence of his pass-catchers. The talent is still there, as is his confidence so the key, then, is to keep putting him in positions to succeed.

Kapadia (Wilson): When he stays in the pocket and has time, Wilson is throwing the ball better than he ever has. His 68.9 percent completion percentage ranks seventh, and his 7.96 YPA ranks ninth. Wilson has shown in the past that he can make plays late, having led 15 game-winning drives through his first three seasons, and he continues to do a good job of taking care of the ball. There are areas where he needs to improve, but Wilson is not high on the list of Seahawks’ issues this season.

Why they won't

Gutierrez (Kaepernick): Have you seen the Niners’ porous offensive line? A year after being sacked 52 times, Kaepernick is on pace to be sacked 51 times. Yes, a lot of those are on Kaepernick, who is still showing issues going through his reads against fast and athletic defenses (paging the Cardinals). And while he did get his groove back against the Giants and Ravens, those pass defenses are ranked 30th and 27th in the league, respectively. If Kaepernick cannot sustain that success against another quick defense like Seattle’s, or the St. Louis Rams’, and the running game stalls behind him (Carlos Hyde is nursing a sore left foot and Reggie Bush has all of eight touches as he deals with a strained left calf), those questions about Kaepernick’s future in Santa Clara will resurface.

Kapadia (Wilson): There aren’t a lot of signs the protection will get better and the sacks will go down. The Seahawks have been able to stay healthy on the offensive line up to this point. If they have to call on backups anytime soon, Wilson could have an even tougher time. Like most athletic quarterbacks who get knocked around, Wilson has had issues with deciding when to scramble and when to hang in the pocket. Finding the right balance is something he’ll have to navigate the rest of the way.

Game prediction

Gutierrez: As noted before, Kaepernick found his rhythm with short, safe passes against plodding defenses, and while Seattle’s defense has had its issues, particularly the past two weeks, it has owned Kaepernick. Yes, there is more talent on the Seahawks’ roster than on the Niners’, and seeing as how they are the two-time defending NFC champs, there’s no shame in that game. As such, in what many see as a potential playoff elimination game between a pair of 2-4 teams, the Seahawks might have a greater sense of urgency. The Seahawks have made a habit of making Kaepernick look bad: His seven interceptions against them the most he’s thrown against any opponent and his 53.7 career passer rating against them the lowest against any team he’s faced more than once. Seahawks 24, 49ers 13

Kapadia: Opposing QBs have completed 69.6 percent of their attempts (30th) and averaged 8.34 YPA (30th) against the 49ers this season. Even if protection is shoddy, this is a good matchup for Wilson and the Seahawks’ passing game. The way Seattle is playing right now, nothing will come easy. But they escape Levi’s Stadium with a narrow victory Thursday night. Seahawks 20, 49ers 17