In what may be the most anticipated Monday Night Football game of the season, the Seattle Seahawks (7-2, second in NFC West) travel to Northern California to play the San Francisco 49ers (8-0, first in NFC West). The Seahawks have one of the front-runners for league MVP in Russell Wilson, while the Niners are the last unbeaten team in the NFL. Here is a preview for Monday’s showdown, along with odds and a pick.
By the Numbers
We’ll start with Seattle, where Wilson has the offense ranked among the league’s best. Seattle is fourth in yards per game with 395 and seventh in points per game with 27.6. The running game has also been effective, as Chris Carson leads a rushing attack that is seventh in the NFL with 131.7 rushing yards per game.
However, the defense is a far cry from the “Legion of Boom” days. The Seahawks allow the eighth-most yards with 380.8 and fifth-most passing yards with 278.1. They are, however, solid in defending the run and on third-down stops.
The 49ers are rolling and have the look of an all-around complete team. Coach Kyle Shanahan and quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo lead an offense that scores the third-most points per game with 29.4 with the seventh-most total yards per game at 390.3. While it isn’t the dynamic passing team that Seattle is, San Francisco has the second-most rushing yards per game thanks to backs like Tevin Coleman and Matt Breida, averaging 171.1 per game.
The 49ers are even better defensively, as San Francisco leads the league in yards allowed and passing yards allowed, and is second in points allowed per game.
What to Watch
What was recently one of the NFL’s best rivalries has lost its luster over the last few years. But now this is the first time since Thanksgiving 2014 where both teams play each other with winning records, putting this rivalry back on the forefront. As far as what to watch, here are three of the biggest storylines.
1. Russell Wilson vs. San Francisco’s pass defense. Wilson has over 2,500 yards and 22 touchdowns and is fresh off of a five-touchdown performance against the Buccaneers. Meanwhile, the 49ers hold opponents to an incredible 138.1 passing yards per game. Among the names in the Niners secondary is cornerback Richard Sherman, a former teammate of Wilson’s. This right here is the heavyweight matchup that will determine how the game plays out.
2. The effectiveness of Chris Carson. While Seattle is certainly Wilson’s team, Carson has played a huge role in their success. Last week, Carson ran for over 100 yards against the Bucs, the first running back to do so this season. When he is effective, Wilson is able to work off the play-action and do what he does best. San Francisco is good but not elite at stopping the run, so perhaps Seattle looks to get Carson involved early.
3. Jimmy Garoppolo coming into his own. In last week’s Thursday night game against the Cardinals, Garoppolo threw for a career-high four touchdowns in the win. As he begins to transform from game-manager into above-average NFL QB, he’s about to face a pass defense that gave up 460 passing yards to Matt Schaub and the Falcons and 335 passing yards to Jameis Winston and the Bucs in their last two games. This is a great opportunity for Garoppolo to continue to sling it down the field and give San Francisco a true balanced attack.
The Niners are banged up and are now entering life without linebacker Kwon Alexander, who suffered a torn pectoral last week. Right now, the biggest name in question for San Francisco is tight end George Kittle. Garoppolo’s favorite target hasn’t practiced all week, and his status for Monday is very much in doubt. Other players who have been limited in practice included pass-rusher Dee Ford, starting tackles Joe Staley and Mike McGlinchey, as well as running back Breida.
Not to be outdone, the Seahawks have plenty of injury questions of their own. Among them, tackle Duane Brown and defensive end Jadaveon Clowney, each of whom has not practiced and is questionable for the game. Former Niner and starting guard Mike Iupati was limited, as was new wide receiver acquisition Josh Gordon and leading receiver Tyler Lockett. Fortunately, Carson, as well as linebackers Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright, are now full-go at practice.
Odds and Pick
Not surprisingly, the 49ers are favorites at home on Monday night, listed at -6. That number seems high, as Wilson has rarely lost games by more than just a couple of points. Regardless, these are two great teams who are evenly matched, and I expect a close game as a result. I think Wilson’s playmaking ability is enough for the Seahawks to cover the six points, but San Francisco does just enough to pull out the win.