Run CMCImage:Getty Images
There’s been a lot of talk this week about who’s on alert, and most of that talk has revolved around two NFC teams that tend to lose in the most extravagant ways when it comes to the playoffs. The Dallas Cowboys and Minnesota Vikings are 2.5- and 3-point favorites, respectively, in matchups against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and New York Giants, and given the teams’ histories, that’s understandable. Still, I’m not entirely convinced that the San Francisco 49ers will roll into the next round.
Granted, the Seattle Seahawks have spent the last five weeks losing the smell of an underdog and their playoff bid, but something about the postseason divisional matchups makes me uneasy. These two NFC West foes faced each other in weeks 2 and 15, and neither was particularly close. San Francisco has also racked up 10 straight wins and looks like a roster that’s peaking at the right time and expecting another deep run in the postseason.
Yet if you examine those 13 victories, you’ll find that they’ve beaten four playoff teams all year — Seattle twice, Tampa Bay, the Chargers and Miami — and just one of them is more than three games over .500. (And that team is the Chargers, for goodness sake.) I know you can only play who’s on your schedule, but that doesn’t mean they’re this battle-hardened juggernaut.
So allow me to represent the people of the Pacific Northwest because no one else will.
The 49ers don’t have many weaknesses, but QB inexperience is one of them
The win over Seattle was QB Brock Purdy’s second start, and the Niner’s third-string QB is a perfect 5-0 since taking on the injured Jimmy Garoppolo. Head Coach Kyle Shanahan’s system is so efficient and the team so talented that he doesn’t need his quarterback to be productive. Deebo Samuel was injured against Tampa when Purdy saw action for the second time and it didn’t matter much. The wide receiver/running back hybrid returned in Week 18 and touched the ball three times for 24 yards, so San Francisco is playing with a whole bunch of skilled players.
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However, Seattle will also have all of its key playmakers, as Tyler Lockett returned in the regular-season finals and Kenneth Walker III returned to his unconventional but hugely effective self. This is great news for Pete Carroll and Geno Smith, because the Niners are allowing league-low points (16) and yards (300) per game, and the Hawks’ defense is in the bottom third of those two stats.
Perform CMC against Seattle’s Run D
Based on this, the main matchup of Saturday’s game is Christian McCaffery (pictured above) and the 49 running game against the Seahawk Rush Defense. That’s why, if Smith and co. are going to shock the world, they have to get out early or invent a rookie mistake… by a rookie. Sure, Purdy overcame a 10-point deficit in the second half against Las Vegas, but double-digit second-half leads have been the Raiders’ defining trait this season. Let’s see Purdy sweat a bit before we declare him the next Tom Brady.
We have a first time visitor here
This will be Mr. Irrelevant’s first appearance in the playoffs – and also his first time facing the same team twice. Having film and playing experience against a quarterback is like the third time a pitcher goes through the lineup. Two of Purdy’s five wins were essentially played in preseason terms, this is only his sixth start, and playing quarterback isn’t that easy, even under Shanahan.
Seattle has overcome adversity since trading with Russell Wilson
While most people have been waiting all season for the Seahawks to go away to get rid of their geno jokes — and I was guilty of a few a year ago — I deleted that draft folder. With his performance and Pete Carroll yelling “hooray” in his ear for the past five months, this is a perfect narrative for a coach to smack his quarterback over the head. And what is Carroll’s greatest strength if not motivation?
I mean, look at all the things he can pin to his (I assume) oversized bulletin board:
It’s hard to beat a team three times. We’re not afraid of a division opponent. The choice of all experts. The 10 point spread
I’m sure there are more – and I’m sure everyone on the Hawks’ 53-man roster is sick of them. You know Pom Pom Pete’s exercises have been glorified pep rallies all week and he’s been running around screaming and clapping like a maniac.
Typically, the first game of the wild card weekend is the group’s Thursday Night Football. (Are we sure this isn’t on Amazon?) But stop treating it like it’s TCU-Georgia, even though technically I do. These are NFL rosters. How many times have you been fucked by a double digit favorite this season alone?
All I’m saying is don’t be surprised if the game everyone least expects to be tight ends up being a lot more competitive than the pundits would have you believe.