Good morning. Weather could be a factor today, with rain showers predicted for this evening and temperatures in the 40s, so dress appropriately if you’re going to the game tonight.
That said, here are my five keys for the Seahawks as they try and clinch a playoff berth with a win over NFC West rival San Francisco.
Stay poised: The Seahawks have one of the youngest teams in the league. And in an emotional, highly charged atmosphere like most are anticipating at CenturyLink Field tonight, guys can easily loose their cool. Pete Carroll has to do a good job of channeling that energy in a positive way on the field, and make sure that enthusiasm does not manifest itself into false starts and personal foul penalties after the whistle.
Win the turnover battle: With two stout defenses going against each other, I think this game will swing on a couple key turnovers. Specifically, taking care of the ball on special teams will be important. The Seahawks have a +12 turnover differential at home, so they to will try and steal a couple possession today. And while Colin Kaepernick offers more explosive plays than Alex Smith, he also gives up the ball more. Kaepernick has two interceptions and nine fumbles, although he’s only lost two of those fumbles this year.
Stop Frank Gore: With the speed that Seattle has at linebacker, I think the Seahawks can handle Kaepernick and read option stuff out of the pistol formation. But the key will be stopping all of the different types of runs San Francisco can throw at them. So slowing down running back Frank Gore still is the key to stopping the 49ers offense. That means Seattle’s defensive line has to do a better job of controlling things up front and not letting San Francisco’s interior line push to the second level.
Catch the ball: Pretty simple. Seattle had five crucial drops against San Francisco in the first contest that really cost them the game. That can’t happen again today. Receivers like Golden Tate, Sidney Rice, Zach Miller and Doug Baldwin will get their opportunities, and they have to make the most of them.
Follow the leader: While Marshawn Lynch is the engine that makes this team go offensively, even as a rookie, Russell Wilson is the conductor and unquestioned leader. We know that Wilson will play steady and make his share of plays, so the rest of the team just needs to fall in line and follow his lead.
Here’s my advance for the game. Pete Carroll still is looking to get his first win against Jim Harbaugh.
Dave Boling of The News Tribune delves deeper into the rivalry between Carroll and Harbaugh. He notes the Harbaugh turns 49 today. Boling: “Oh, they’re battling all right. You can count on that because this is the day when the Big 49er turns 49, when Carroll is trying to shed the 0-for-3 horse collar against Harbaugh, and when a dramatic physical game might only be the prelude to a handshake.”
Danny O’Neil of The Seattle Times traveled back to Virginia to find out more about what makes Russell Wilson tick. O’Neil: “This is a kid who never drank alcohol before turning 21, and a man who married the woman he met when he was a sophomore in high school. That would be Ashton, a high-school swimmer who was a grade older and attended a different school. Their wedding was in January, but they still haven’t gone on a full-fledged honeymoon.
“Russell is the middle child of an athletically gifted bunch. Father and both sons played two sports in college while Anna, the youngest, is a ninth-grader, a point guard who is nearly as tall as Russell and a top basketball prospect. Anna and Tammy will fly to Seattle for the first time on Saturday and watch Russell play Sunday.”
Jerry Brewer of The Seattle Times writes that dual threat quarterbacks like Russell Wilson and Colin Kaepernick are proving they can win in the NFL.
Clare Farnsworth of Seahawks.com previews the game here.
Sportspressnw.com does the same thing here, calling the Hawks-49ers battle the game of the year.
In anticipation of defensive tackle Justin Smith not playing today, Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com breaks down a key matchup of San Francisco defensive tackle Ricky Jean Francois vs. Seattle offensive guard Paul McQuistan.
UPDATE: ESPN’s Adam Schefter reports that DT Justin Smith indeed will not play today.
SF DE Justin Smith will not play tonight vs. Seattle due to elbow injury, 49ers hoping he will be recovered enough to return for postseason.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) December 23, 2012
Kevin Lynch of the San Francisco Chronicle writes that the 49ers have struggled to contain Lynch.