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2022 NFL season: Five things to watch for in Seahawks-49ers on Super Wild Card Weekend

Seattle Seahawks
2022 · 9-8-0
San Francisco 49ers
2022 · 13-4-0

There were few people at the start of the season who believed Geno Smith would be quarterbacking the Seattle Seahawks into the playoffs. There were even fewer still who thought Brock Purdy would be helming a San Francisco 49ers postseason run. 

Yet, Super Wild Card Weekend will kick off in Santa Clara, California, with the two most improbable quarterback stories of the season at the forefront. 

Purdy will lead a San Francisco squad that’s the hottest in the NFL against a Smith-led Seattle squad that was the last in the league to punch a playoff ticket

When the NFC West-champion 49ers, the NFC’s No. 2 seed, host the seventh-seeded Seahawks, it will be the teams’ third meeting of the year, setting a tone for a wild-card slate in which each game is a rematch from the regular season.

Though they play each other twice a season, this will be just the second time the Seahawks and 49ers have squared off in the postseason. The first was a 23-17 Seahawks win in the 2013 NFC Championship Game on the way to a Seattle Super Bowl triumph. But these are each vastly different franchises now. 

Having dropped each of their previous meetings this season, the Seahawks are clear underdogs, but the 71-year-old Pete Carroll’s fresh-faced Seattle squad has defied odds since Week 1. In contrast, Kyle Shanahan has piloted the Niners to back-to-back playoff berths for the first time in his six seasons in San Francisco, living up to lofty expectations along the way.

Bolstered by a 10-game winning streak, the 49ers are healthy, boast a cavalcade of all-stars and are predicted by many to run roughshod over their division runners-up en route to the Divisional Round. But Carroll and Co. have forgone a rebuild despite moving on from Russell Wilson and Bobby Wagner, and after sneaking into the playoffs at the last minute are still standing tall in a surprising season. 

Here are five things to watch for when the 49ers host the Seahawks to open Super Wild Card Weekend:

  1. Can the 49ers locomotive be slowed, much less stopped? San Francisco right now looks very much like a freight train that has no stops until Glendale, Arizona. Boding all the better for the Niners is that in each the last two instances they won the NFC West (2012, 2019), they advanced to the Super Bowl. This current crop of gold panners has largely dominated, as evidenced by a league-best plus-173-point differential, and San Francisco is doing it on both sides of the ball. The 49ers head into the postseason with the top-ranked defense and fifth-ranked offense. Naysayers will argue San Francisco has had the easiest strength of schedule in the league (opponents had a .417 win percentage), but the Niners beat the opponents put in front of them, leaving most of them in their wake after lopsided smackdowns. Included in the carnage was Seattle, which was swept in the season series for the first time since 2011. Autumn after autumn, Pete Carroll’s squads had the 49ers’ numbers, but things changed drastically this year. Nick Bosa, who became the first 49er to lead the NFL in sacks with 18.5, and fellow Pro Bowlers Fred Warner and Talanoa Hufanga teamed up to hold the Seahawks to two of their three worst point showings this season. Having earned a playoff bid following a Week 18 win over the Rams and a Packers loss to the Lions, Carroll expressed his gratitude for the help received from Motown, but quipped, “unfortunately, we’re playing the Niners.” Those Niners have been handing out misfortune for months, and the Seahawks are tasked with one last chance to derail them.
  2. Will Geno Smith’s comeback story add another chapter? After he beat out Drew Lock for the role of QB1, Geno Smith subsequently succeeded Russell Wilson in sensational fashion. Smith has emerged as a frontrunner for comeback player of the year after posting a new single-season franchise record with 4,282 yards passing, which earned him his first Pro Bowl bid. Will the Geno renaissance extend past the wild-card round, though? Set to play in the first playoff game of his 10-year, four-team career, Smith is matched up against a Niners defense that shut him down in two previous meetings this season. Smith led the NFC with 30 touchdown passes, but he had just one TD toss in his two outings against the 49ers. Smith also averaged just 217.5 passing yards per game and an 87.4 passer rating against S.F. in comparison to 256.6 and 102.9, respectively, in his other 15 games. Ranked No. 1 in total defense, but 20th against the pass, San Francisco has been susceptible through the air at times. For Smith’s turnaround tale to continue, he’ll have to find a way to improve the numbers against the 49ers. 
  3. Purdy’s more than just a feel-good story now. It’s worth mention that Brock Purdy was the 2022 NFL Draft’s “Mr. Irrelevant,” because it’s being mentioned less and less. The rookie marvel’s novelty status has diminished as it’s become increasingly clear the Niners are winning with Purdy rather than despite him. He’s won five straight starts -- including one against Seattle -- and has thrown for multiple touchdowns and 8-plus yards per attempt in each of them. The last QB to enter the playoffs on such a streak -- the last quarterback overall, not the last rookie, mind you -- was Tom Brady in 2020 ahead of the Buccaneers’ Super Bowl run. Purdy’s statistics are impressive -- 1,308 yards, 13 touchdowns and three interceptions in six games since taking over for an injured Jimmy Garoppolo -- but his ability to take on a leadership role and galvanize a team seeking a title has been most extraordinary. Purdy will become the latest drafted rookie to start a playoff game in the common draft era, per NFL Research. Could Purdy become the first rookie quarterback to win a Super Bowl? He and the Niners need to get by the Seahawks first. 
  4. CMC back in playoffs five seasons later. Perhaps it’s been forgotten that not that long ago Christian McCaffrey was viewed as one of the most electrifying talents in the game, able to befuddle defenses running or receiving as exemplified by his 1,000-1,000 season in 2019. A pair of injury laden campaigns in 2020-21 altered the narrative, but now McCaffrey is returning to form as a 49er. He’s set for just his second-career playoff game, returning to the postseason for his first time since his rookie season in 2017. CMC was prognosticated to be a perfect fit for Kyle Shanahan’s offense following the midseason trade that brought him to The Bay, and that prediction hasn’t been far off. McCaffrey has scored 10 total touchdowns in 11 games with San Francisco and reached the end zone in six straight tilts. That stretch includes the Niners’ 21-13 win over the Seahawks on Dec.15 when he had 108 yards rushing and a TD. It was just the third game in McCaffrey's career against Seattle, but he’s been exceptional each time, averaging 183.3 scrimmage yards per game -- the most by any player versus any team in the Super Bowl era (minimum three games), according to NFL Research. In total, he’s rushed for 320 yards, had 230 yards receiving, caught 25 balls and scored five total TDs against the Seahawks. After a long wait, CMC is back in the postseason and he might just be facing the perfect opponent. 
  5. New class of Seahawks earning top marks. Seattle’s success this season hasn’t rested solely on the right arm of Smith and familiar standouts such as DK Metcalf, Tyler Lockett and Quandre Diggs. One of the best Seahawks draft classes in years has breathed life into the organization. First-rounder Charles Cross and third-rounder Abraham Lucas have become a starting tackle tandem that’s improved the offensive line. Second-round pass rusher Boye Mafe has made contributions, and so too has fourth-round cornerback Coby Bryant. Then there’s second-rounder Kenneth Walker III, who became just the second Seahawks rookie 1,000-yard rusher, and cornerback Tariq Woolen, who shared the league-high with six interceptions. Woolen and Walker have burst onto the scene and lead a class that’s rivaled only by the New York Jets’ this season. Ups and downs have been had by all, but they’ve each been contributors to what feels very much like a franchise rebirth. Regardless of Saturday’s outcome, these new-age Seahawks have Seattle trending in the right direction. 

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