SEATTLE — Richard Sherman and Russell Wilson sat at a table placed on the San Francisco 49ers logo at the 50-yard-line, chomping down on turkey in a made-for-TV moment.
It was the latest jab in what's been the best rivalry in the NFC.
That rivalry between Seattle and San Francisco, and what it's been the last three seasons, could be at an end after the Seahawks host the 49ers on Sunday. San Francisco (7-6) must win its final three games — and get some help — to make the playoffs and continue a remarkable run of success since Jim Harbaugh arrived as head coach.
Couple those slim playoff hopes with the uncertainty regarding Harbaugh's future in San Francisco and Sunday could be the close of this chapter of the rivalry.
“It's tough man. The last three years, NFC championship the first year, Super Bowl, NFC championship, and now this year they're making it difficult for us,” San Francisco running back Frank Gore said. “We've had ups and downs. The games we should have won we didn't take control of.”
The evolution of the rivalry started with Seattle trying to emulate San Francisco, then accomplishing what the 49ers couldn't and winning a Super Bowl. They've been among the best teams in the NFC since Harbaugh and Pete Carroll took over their respective teams, but appear headed in opposite directions.
While the 49ers are on the brink of playoff elimination, Seattle's three-game win streak has it in a position that victories in the final three games would earn the NFC West title.
“(As) players we have a great respect for those guys,” Seattle wide receiver Doug Baldwin said. “It's hyped-up more so for the fans. The fans have this negativity toward each other, where the players, we have a mutual respect.”
Seattle (9-4) put itself in that position of control largely because off Thanksgiving night, a thorough 19-3 win that was so embarrassing for the home team that 49ers CEO Jed York issued a public apology on Twitter to the fans. Adding to the pain, the two interceptions thrown by Colin Kaepernick were both taken away by Sherman, their No. 1 nemesis.
“We've definitely helped out (Sherman's) stat sheet the past couple games,” San Francisco offensive coordinator Greg Roman said.
Here's what else to watch for as the Seahawks go for a third straight regular-season home win over the 49ers:
HOUSE OF HORRORS: The past three trips to Seattle have proven mostly forgettable for the 49ers. It started at the end of the 2012 season when Seattle routed them 42-13. Then in Week 2 of the 2013 season, the Seahawks rolled 29-3.
But Sunday will be the first time back in CenturyLink Field for the 49ers since January's NFC championship game.
“It was a great night at the stadium, memorable for the fans, the players, and the coaches because it was a perfect night of championship football and we're fortunate to come out on the (winning) end,” Carroll said.
LOCKDOWN: The past three weeks have been a return to what became the norm for Seattle's defense. The Seahawks have allowed 507 combined yards in those games. That's the fourth fewest allowed by any team during a three-game span since 2006. But none of the other three that allowed fewer yards faced the same level of competition as Seattle's wins over the Cardinals (9-1 at the time), 49ers (7-4) and Eagles (9-3).
The Seahawks can become the first team since the 2011 Texans to hold three straight teams under 200 total yards against the 49ers.
KAP'S NIGHTMARE: Kaepernick has never enjoyed playing in Seattle. In his two regular-season starts, Kaepernick has thrown four interceptions, completed 50 percent of his passes and has a passer rating of 47.1, the lowest at any road stadium. In the NFC championship game, Kaepernick was solid until the fourth quarter, when he threw two interceptions.
“It is a different atmosphere, but I feel like it's like anything you do. The more you do it, the more you're there, the more comfortable you get with it,” Kaepernick said. “So, when we get up there, this offense should be fully prepared for what to expect.”
FIND THE QB: San Francisco was able to get pressure on Wilson two weeks ago, but that pass rush was nonexistent last week against Oakland. Derek Carr was sacked only once and had plenty of time to pass most of the game. The 49ers were credited with only two quarterback hits and the lack of pressure allowed Carr to throw for three touchdowns and complete 22 of 28 passes.
“Cranked up in the pass rush? It's going to be needed,” Harbaugh said. “I think we have the guys to do it. Look forward to a better performance in that area.”