TNF: The Seahawks are in the playoff hunt, who woulda thunk it?

Seattle can improve its postseason chances with a win over NFC West rival San Francisco, 27-7 winners in the previous meeting

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Geno Smith
Geno Smith
Image: Getty Images

Week 15 kicks off with an NFC West rivalry between the San Francisco 49ers and the Seattle Seahawks. It’s been a while since a Niners-Seahawks game this late in the season had playoff ramifications for both teams.

But here we are in mid-December with the 49ers sitting atop the division at 9-4, on a six-game winning streak, with a chance to clinch an NFC West title against their arch nemesis, Seattle. A seventh consecutive win for San Francisco would be the first time it has accomplished that since 2019. And the Niners wound up in the Super Bowl at the end of that season. The NFL loves drama and storylines, and if you’re a West Coast football fan, it doesn’t get much better.

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In terms of the Seahawks and what’s on the line for Pete Carroll’s crew, it’s simple. A loss to San Francisco won’t eliminate Seattle from playoff contention, but it’ll make it difficult since the two teams ahead of them (New York Giants and Washington Commanders) faceoff on Sunday night. So, falling to 7-7 while one of those teams improves to 8-5-1 could be detrimental to Seattle’s playoff push.

The last time these teams played in Week 2 was the last time we saw the 49ers’ second-year quarterback Trey Lance on the field. He was replaced in that game by Jimmy Garoppolo after suffering a severe ankle injury. Fast forward three months, and Garoppolo is now out for the year with a foot injury. So, the Niners are on their third QB this season, Brock Purdy, a player which the Seahawks (or any other team) have very little film on.

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Let’s be honest, though. No one outside of the Puget Sound region expected Seattle to be anywhere near playoff contention this late into the season. Even if they miss out, the Seahawks could still wind up with a winning record and a top-three pick in next spring’s draft. Yes, the Broncos are that bad, in case you’d forgotten. Carroll looks more like a genius as this season stretches out after the Russell Wilson trade. Regardless of how this year ends, Seattle looks like it’ll be in good shape moving forward.

Another variable in this game for the Seahawks will be facing this San Francisco offense for the first time with Christian McCaffrey. Jeff Wilson Jr. did most of the heavy lifting in the backfield the last time these teams squared off — and now he’s with Mike McDaniel in Miami. It’ll be interesting to see how Carroll’s defensive game plan looks for McCaffrey in Kyle Shanahan’s offense. The last time Carroll’s defense faced Run CMC was in Week 15 of the 2019 season, and he shredded the ‘Hawks for 175 total yards and two rushing touchdowns. And that was in Carolina’s putrid offense.

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One advantage in Seattle’s favor is it won’t have to worry about how to stop both McCaffrey and Deebo Samuel. It’s almost unfair how both guys can line up just about anywhere on the field. But Samuel is out dealing with a knee and ankle injury but should be back before the regular season ends. So, that’s one less weapon for the Seahawks to prepare for, although George Kittle and Brandon Aiyuk, among others, will be present.

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In short, the Seahawks must find a way to combat this explosive Niners team and score enough points against the No. 1 defense in the NFL if they want to seriously keep their playoff hopes alive. Geno Smith’s resurgence as a starting QB in this league has fueled the Seahawks, although they’ve cooled off recently, losing three of their last four, including a tough L to the Panthers last week.

Seattle should be treating this game as a must-win because a loss here likely means they’ll finish outside the top seven teams in the conference. The only thing left for the 49ers besides clinching the NFC West would be catching the Minnesota Vikings for the No. 2 seed. But with only one bye per conference, capturing the number two seed isn’t as alluring as it once was.