Why am I looking so forward to the Sunday-night NFC West matchup between Jim Harbaugh’s division-leading 49ers and Pete Carroll’s white-hot Seahawks?
Allow me to rant about all the different reasons.
For starters, I still can’t get the Niners’ outstanding, statement-making 41-34 victory last Sunday night over the mighty Patriots out of my head. What a show that game turned out to be, with Tom Brady engineering an unbelievable comeback, only to fall just short at the end!
As I wrote earlier this week, if that game was indeed a preview of this year’s Super Bowl — and the more I think about it, the more I feel we will be seeing Harbaugh and Bill Belichick matching wits down by the Bayou on Super Sunday — than we all are in for one helluva great Super Bowl.
But first things first — like a second consecutive Sunday-nighter with instant-classic potential, a game quite possibly very similar to last Sunday night’s rain-slicked masterpiece as far as the weather is concerned, considering that rain is to Seattle what reindeer are to Christmas.
Not only does the second game in this year’s San Francisco-Seattle series have major playoff ramifications for both teams, but since the first game — a 13-6 slugfest won by San Francisco in Week Seven starring RB Frank Gore and a supporting cast of path-clearers that put on a trap-blocking clinic — the QB dynamic has become significantly more attractive for both teams.
In Week Seven, Seahawks rookie QB Russell Wilson couldn’t have been more underwhelming, passing for only 122 yards while completing 9-of-23 passes. But right after that game, Carroll decided to cut Wilson loose and let him flourish in a more creative, explosive offense with a read-option element that has capitalized on the rookie’s legs as well as his arm.
In Week Seven for the Niners, Alex Smith was still the quarterback. We all know what has happened since, with Colin Kaepernick bursting out of the woodwork with a big-time flair under center. In five games as a starter, Kaepernick has more than justified his head coach’s bold move to throw him into the fire over a proven commodity in Smith, who we can all agree deserves much better.
Put simply, Kaepernick vs. Wilson shapes up as a dynamite matchup.
But so does Harbaugh vs. Carroll — archrivals going back to their days together in the Pac-12, when Harbaugh coached Stanford and Carroll coached USC. Counting their matchups at both the collegiate and pro levels, Harbaugh clearly has the upper hand with a 5-1 record, including a 3-0 mark in the NFL.
Think the helplessly ultra-hyper Carroll might have that record on his mind this Sunday night?
There are so many more angles worth savoring — Gore and Seahawks “Beast Mode” RB Marshawn Lynch going toe to toe again … red-hot Niners WR Michael Crabtrtee operating vs. Seattle’s undermanned CB corps, which might or might not include Richard Sherman, who played under Harbaugh at Stanford … Seahawks rookie MLB Bobby Wagner champing at the bit to limit Kaepernick, who he had good success limiting in college when Utah State played Nevada.
But with game time fast approaching, the most significant angle just might be the iffy physical condition of Justin Smith, whose amazing consecutive games streak (189 and counting) is in definite jeopardy because of the elbow injury he suffered last Sunday.
With Justin Smith forced to the sideline much of the second half, all New England did was score 31 points, gain 407 yards and make 26 first downs in the last 30 minutes.
Think Carroll is aware of that stat?
However, while only two Niners missed practice Wednesday (Smith and LB Clark Haggans), six Seahawks were sidelined, including No. 1 WR Sidney Rice (knee), starting DT Alan Branch (ankle) and CBs Walter Thurmond and Marcus Trufant (hamstrings).
In addition, Lynch was limited because of a chronic back problem.
I’ve seen the betting line bounce back and forth on this game, starting off as a pick-’em and most recently showing the Niners as one-point favorites.
On Monday, I picked the Niners to win in PFW’s Handicapper’s Corner. But with Justin Smith likely at less than full strength even if he does play, I think I now like the Seahawks by a field goal.
Whatever happens, I doubt anybody watching Sunday night’s game will have a problem staying awake.