Dynamic young quarterbacks. Bullying running backs. Rock-solid defenses. Coaches who don’t much like each other.
Throw in playoff implications and no wonder the 49ers and Seattle Seahawks were given a prime-time showcase.
“There is something about them, man. They’re basically the same team as us and I just hate that fact,” Seattle safety Kam Chancellor said.
The 49ers and Seahawks’ fierce rivalry will be in full view before a national TV audience tonight. And the stakes are high.
San Francisco (10-3-1) needs one win in its final two games to clinch a second straight NFC West title. Nearly 20 years ago was the last time the 49ers claimed consecutive division crowns, and wins the final two weeks would assure the San Francisco at least the No. 2 seed and a first-round playoff bye.
Seattle (9-5) needs one victory to clinch at least a wild-card berth. Two wins and an unlikely San Francisco loss in the finale against Arizona would give the Seahawks the division title, although hopes of a division crown all but ended when the 49ers held on to beat New England last week.
Tonight provides an opportunity for Seattle to prove its legitimacy. The Seahawks’ three consecutive wins and two 50-point outbursts caught the NFL’s attention. But those three victories came against fading Chicago, Arizona and Buffalo.
Beat the 49ers and Seattle becomes one of those teams no one in the NFC wants to see in the postseason.
“In December you want to be the hot team,” San Francisco running back Frank Gore said. “We know that if we get the win we can win the division. They’ve been playing great. I think they got better as a team each week since they played us. We want to claim the division and the playoffs.”
The 49ers must avoid any letdown from last week’s wild 41-34 win at New England and solve Seattle’s impenetrable home-field advantage. The Seahawks are 6-0 at home, their last loss at CenturyLink Field coming in Week 16 of 2011 to the 49ers.
It’ll be Colin Kaepernick’s first venture into the loudest environment in the NFL, another chance for Seattle QB Russell Wilson to strengthen his late-season surge into top offensive rookie consideration, and another meeting between coaches Pete Carroll and Jim Harbaugh.
“It feels good to know that you’re playing for something,” 49ers linebacker Patrick Willis said. “We have a playoff berth, but we want the division. And we also want to have that first-week bye, and we know we have to win this week first.”