Blaine Gabbert remains the starting quarterback, so a loss on the scoreboard with a moral victory in margin of defeat at CenturyLink this weekend would be a net positive for the 49ers. ( Stan Olszewski/Special to S.F. Examiner)

This week’s 49ers game an early referendum on the NFC West

For most of the 2010s, the NFC West has been the cream of the NFL crop.

Through two weeks (small sample size alert!) of the 2016 season, that appears to be far from the case. Three of the four teams in the league rank in the bottom seven of the league for total yardage and yards per game — while the Seattle Seahawks and Los Angeles Rams have combined for a measly 24 total points.

Admittedly that could all change in one game, especially for the Hawks’ previously high-powered offense. But their failures have been an alarming development, nonetheless, which begs several questions: Starting with, is Russell Wilson’s ankle injury going to hinder his mobility all season?

If that’s the case, Seattle will be in big trouble this year. His ability to improvise and create is what allowed his team to transcend the rest over the last three years. Highlighted by a bad — or at least underperforming — offensive line, Wilson is proving to be ineffective pocket passer, standing all of 5-foot-11.

Can the 49ers’ front seven, playing without Ray-Ray Armstrong after he was placed on the injured reserve earlier this week, be able to keep Wilson uncomfortable for the third straight game?

Either way, San Francisco head coach Chip Kelly knows he shouldn’t take the Seahawks lightly.

“Sometimes, you kind of take a dip, you’re in a little bit of a rut and then you bounce out of it,” Kelly explained for the Hawks’ early swoon. “But, they have the skill and they obviously have the ability to bounce out of that from an offensive standpoint. So, our defense has a big challenge going up there and playing those guys.”

Both rivals enter the contest with a record of 1-1, but the 49ers haven’t won in Seattle since 2011 and have been outscored 117-36 there in the interim. Even though the Hawks are down, the visitors will almost assuredly be the underdog.

So, here’s what we’ll learn with each possible outcome of today’s game in the Emerald City:

If the Niners win

Kelly’s different approach to offense has made his team into a true wild card in a suddenly down division and the Hawks’ championship window can officially be deemed shut until they solve their line issues.

If the Seahawks win in a blow out:

The first two weeks can be thrown out. The 49ers are at the bottom of the pack with the Rams and the West will be won in a race between Arizona and Seattle, because the CenturyLink advantage will play a significant enough role, the Seahawks can ensure a .500 season at least.

If the Seahawks barely win:

Give them time, they’ll do the same thing they do every year where the offense takes weeks and weeks to find its rhythm and then they’ll suddenly take off right before its playoff time. But this outcome would also represent a moral victory for the 49ers: They get to lose, maintaining their quest for a high draft pick, while also showing guts in the toughest venue in which to play in all of sports.

And for the “no moral victories” crowd: The team is starting Blaine Gabbert. Take those wins where you can get ‘em.
Blaine GabbertChip Kellyjacob c. palmerNFLPete CarrollRussell WilsonSan Francisco 49ersSeattle Seahawks

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