SAN FRANCISCO -- It is not going to be the most important game of the season, as many thought when the schedule was released in April.
The Seattle Seahawks, coming off an absolute beat down of New Orleans on Monday night, are 11-1 and the San Francisco 49ers are 8-4 heading into their meeting on Sunday, which will be the second-to-last game at Candlestick Park. The Seahawks will clinch the NFC West with a win. The 49ers need a win more because they're holding onto the sixth and final NFC playoff spot by a game.
There is plenty at stake and there is plenty of animosity. Seahawks reporter Terry Blount and 49ers reporter Bill Williamson hash it all out.
Blount: Bill, almost everyone expected this to be the game that would possibly decide the NFC West title. It still can, but not the way people imagined. The Seahawks can clinch the division crown at San Francisco on Sunday with a victory. Why aren’t the 49ers the team everyone thought they would be, and can they still be the team they were a year ago at this time?
Williamson: Terry, I think the 49ers are fine. They are 8-4 and they have won seven games by double digits, which is tied with Denver for the league high. This is an elite team. Still, there are two issues at play. The 49ers are 2-4 against teams with winning records. They were blown out by the Seahawks and the Colts early in the season and then they lost back-to-back games to Carolina and New Orleans by a total of four points last month. If the 49ers have anything to prove, it’s that they can beat a quality team. Another reason why this race hasn't been close is the Seahawks are playing out of their minds. They simply ran away from a good team. Terry, do you think the Seahawks can stay up for this game after the huge win? Or could this be a letdown game?
Blount: I really thought this was going to be a big letdown game for the Seahawks and a chance for them to come in flat, but now they have the opportunity to clinch the title in the most unlikely of places for them. The Seahawks would love to walk away from this one and be able to tell the 49ers that they clinched the division crown "in your house." So I think they'll be pretty focused, but the short week of preparation and coming off an emotional Monday night game could take a toll.
Bill, the Seahawks had a convincing 29-3 victory over the 49ers at CenturyLink Field in the second game of the season, but Seattle has lost four consecutive games at Candlestick Park by a combined score of 109-54. Is this a game where the 49ers feel they have something to prove?
Williamson: Oh, certainly. Players were talking about this game in the locker room Sunday after beating the Rams. I think that was a first for this season. The 49ers want to win this game because I think they want to prove to themselves as much as anyone else that they can end the Seahawks’ mini-dominance over the 49ers. The 49ers want to protect their territory in this game. What struck me is players talked about not overthinking this game and not getting caught up in the moment. It’s a sign they learned from some previous mistakes. I’m looking forward to seeing it play out. Terry, do you get the sense the Seahawks respect the 49ers as much as they did going into Week 2?
Blount: Honestly, my sense is most of the Seahawks just really don't like the 49ers, and it's no secret that Richard Sherman can't stand Jim Harbaugh, along with the fact that Harbaugh and Pete Carroll won't be sending each other Christmas cards. Certainly, the Seahawks realize San Francisco has a lot of very talented players who can beat you in many ways. Publicly, they will say they respect the 49ers. Privately, they can't stand them and respect just doesn't enter the picture.
Bill, Colin Kaepernick was the toast of the NFL a year ago as a young quarterback with limitless talent. He’s had some rough moments this year, but also has had flashes of brilliance. What's different for him this season and is he as good as he was a year ago?
Williamson: I think it is a combination of things, including the fact that he is still learning and the offense is still evolving. I think the key was that he lacked all his weapons. It was startling how much better the passing game was Sunday in Michael Crabtree's debut. He had just two catches, but it opened up the entire game against St. Louis. Terry, do you think the 49ers can have success against this top-notch Seattle secondary that they didn't have in the past two meetings?
Blount: Certainly, having Crabtree back makes the 49ers a more formidable receiving corps than the game in September. And the Seahawks are down a man from that game with Walter Thurmond's suspension. Some people probably have forgotten that Brandon Browner didn't play that night because he had a hamstring injury. But the job backups Byron Maxwell and Jeremy Lane did against the Saints, as good a passing team as you'll find, showed how much depth Seattle has in the secondary. I think Vernon Davis is the key for San Francisco, and I can't see Anquan Boldin being shut down this time the way he was in Seattle.