The San Francisco 49ers are exactly where they thought they’d be at this point in the season.
Kyle Shanahan’s group is riding high on a four-game winning streak and coming off one of the most compelling victories of the year – last week’s 42-19 drubbing of the reigning NFC champion Philadelphia Eagles.
Memories of October’s three-game losing streak seem to have evaporated as the Niners now look like the most complete team in the NFC.
San Francisco has won 10 straight division games dating to the end of the 2021 season, a streak that will be put on the line Sunday when it hosts the Seattle Seahawks in a rematch of a Thanksgiving night blowout.
After appearing to be playoff-bound earlier in the season, the Seahawks have dropped their last three games to fall to 6-6 and need a quick reversal against their division rival.
Seattle’s offense, which had been sputtering, surprisingly shined against the Dallas Cowboys on Thursday Night Football in NFL Week 13. Geno Smith threw for 334 yards and three touchdowns and DK Metcalf had 134 yards receiving and three scores in a 41-35 loss.
Smith, however, was hit with the questionable tag on Friday and it’s likely he’ll be a game-time decision due to a groin injury suffered in practice.
With the 49ers chasing the Eagles for the top seed in the NFC and with the Seahawks clinging to playoff hopes, this divisional matchup is among the most intriguing of the weekend. Despite Seattle’s desperation, the 49ers are viewed as a juggernaut both in the eyes of sportsbooks and our supercomputer.
Vegas oddsmakers have San Francisco as an 11-point favorite and our model agrees with the point spread, tabbing the 49ers as the best bets with an 82.5% chance of extending its winning streak to five games.
With our supercomputer giving them a league-best 21.1% chance at winning the Super Bowl, the 49ers would be strong favorites over anyone – especially at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, where they have won 16 of their last 18 regular-season games.
So how can Seattle find a way to the upset? That would likely require another offensive explosion.
SEA Key: Stay Balanced on Offense
Pete Carroll built his reputation as a defensive coach, and the famed Legion of Boom defense delivered him a Super Bowl ring.
This year’s defense, however, is a far cry from the Richard Sherman-led units of last decade. Seattle’s defense has allowed an average of 28.7 points over the last six games.
The Seahawks’ 37.8% opponent success rate sits around league average, but those numbers were boosted by strong performances early in the year against struggling offenses.
Given the 49ers’ recent scoring surge, Seattle will need to score points to keep up in this game and the challenge will begin with offensive coordinator Shane Waldron keeping the San Francisco defense guessing.
Running back Kenneth Walker III has missed Seattle’s last two games with an oblique injury and his absence has been felt, with the Seahawks producing 3.4 rushing yards per designed run play – well below the league average of 4.1.
While rookie Zach Charbonnet has been a promising addition, the Seahawks will be hoping that Walker’s return to practice on Thursday bodes well for his chances to play against the 49ers.
Since the Seahawks drafted Walker in the second round last year, they are 8-1 when he has at least 100 yards from scrimmage and 1-5 this year when Walker either doesn’t play or has fewer than 70 yards of offense.
It is easy to see Walker’s importance, considering he is forcing 0.211 missed or broken tackles per offensive touch – fourth among running backs with at least 75 touches this season.
Though it’s certainly important to get the ground game going, the Seahawks shouldn’t forget about the success they’ve had throwing the ball on early downs.
With weapons like Metcalf, Tyler Lockett and rookie Jaxon Smith-Njigba, the ‘Hawks have an above average passing attack overall if Smith is able to play with a 41.5% success rate on passing plays that ranks 11th in the NFL.
Seattle’s success rate jumps to 48.6% when throwing on first down, however (fifth in the league). Add in Smith’s 74.5 completion percentage on play-action concepts, and it becomes clear that Seattle will need to stay unpredictable on the play sheet throughout the game.
% of First Down Pass Plays Gaining 4+ Yds
- San Francisco 49ers (66.5)
- Seattle Seahawks (61.7)
- Jacksonville Jaguars (61.0)
- Miami Dolphins (60.1)
- Buffalo Bills (60.1)
SF Key: Unleash Brock Purdy
It may seem like an oversimplification, but the 49ers go as Brock Purdy goes.
In San Francisco’s nine wins this season, Purdy has thrown 20 touchdowns and one interception. In the team’s three losses, he had three TDs and five turnovers through the air.
Once considered a plucky underdog and game manager, Purdy is now a co-favorite for MVP (along with Dak Prescott) in most sportsbooks and he has the offense humming.
And while Christian McCaffrey is also a valid MVP candidate, Seattle’s defense has faired slightly better against the run than against the pass this season.
Purdy’s league-leading 70.2 completion percentage and the 49ers’ run-after-catch ability with Deebo Samuel, Brandon Aiyuk and George Kittle have garnered plenty of attention this season, but his ability to throw the deep ball has flown under the radar.
He’s diced up opposing defenses with the deep ball, boasting a 139.7 passer rating on attempts of 21 or more yards down the field.
Passer Rating on Attempts of 21+ Yards
- C.J. Stroud, Houston Texans (143.4)
- Brock Purdy, San Francisco 49ers (139.7)
- Trevor Lawrence, Jacksonville Jaguars (135.4)
- Dak Prescott, Dallas Cowboys (128.5)
- Jared Goff, Detroit Lions (122.6)
The deep ball could be a particularly effective weapon against a Seattle defense that ranks 21st in the NFL against attempts at least 21 yards downfield with an opponent passer rating of 99.7.
It’s seemingly difficult to find a weakness in San Francisco’s offense. Not only do the 49ers lead the league in overall success rate at 47.0%, but they also rank first individually in rushing (43.9%) and passing success (49.6%).
The Niners have been able to leverage this top-tier offense into an advantageous game script by building leads and forcing opponents to play from behind. Teams are running the ball on just 30.9% of second-half plays against the 49ers this year, allowing San Francisco’s strong pass rush to unleash and close the game.
And while Nick Bosa’s eight sacks may not seem to indicate a dominant season, he is pressuring quarterbacks on 24.8% of drop backs. That’s the highest in the league among edge defenders with at least 100 pass rush snaps.
The Seahawks have some talented weapons, especially if Walker is healthy enough to return, and have the capability of keeping this game tight.
But it only takes a few plays to set off the avalanche that is the 49ers and only a few mistakes could bury Seattle against arguably the most talented team in the league.