The first matchup of Super Wild Card Weekend will be a third meeting between the San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks, which could be overlooked based on the previous two meetings. San Francisco won the first two matchups by a combined score of 48-20 -- games in which the Seahawks were outplayed by two different 49ers teams.
Christian McCaffrey wasn't on the 49ers in the first matchup, while Trey Lance was the starting quarterback before he went down with a season-ending injury. Jimmy Garoppolo filled in for Lance that day, but not even he made it until the second meeting in Week 15 due to a season-ending injury of his own. Seventh-round rookie Brock Purdy made his first road start against the Seahawks in that showdown, going 17 of 26 for 217 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions (117.0 rating) in another game the 49ers dominated the majority of the contest.
The Seahawks have been one of the surprising teams in the league this season, making the playoffs in the first year without Russell Wilson. Geno Smith turned in a Pro Bowl campaign, leading the league in completion percentage (69.8%) while throwing for 4,282 yards with 30 touchdowns to 11 interceptions (100.9 rating). Seattle also had arguably the most productive rookie class in the NFL, namely running back Kenneth Walker, tackles Charles Cross and Abraham Lucas, and cornerbacks Tariq Woolen and Coby Bryant. Seattle was able to get in the playoffs on the last day of the regular season, despite going 3-5 to close out the year.
Can the Seahawks pull off the upset against the 49ers? Here's a preview of Saturday's wild-card showdown:
How to watch
Christian McCaffrey against the Seahawks run defense
McCaffrey has made San Francisco the favorite to come out of the NFC (+170 odds per Caesars Sportsbook) thanks to the added dimension he provides to an already potent offense. San Francisco gave McCaffrey the football a season-high 32 times against the Seahawks on a short week in the Week 15 matchup, and McCaffrey finished with 138 yards (108 rushing, 30 receiving) and a touchdown in the 21-13 win. McCaffrey had a season-high 26 carries for 108 yards (4.2 yards per carry), including a score before the half that gave San Francisco a double-digit lead that it held until the final minutes.
The Seahawks run defense is one of the worst in the NFL, allowing 150.2 rushing yards per game (30th in the league) and 21 rushing touchdowns (27th in NFL). Seattle's struggles against the run set up McCaffrey to shine, as he averages 29 touches, 183 scrimmage yards and 1.7 touchdowns in three career games against the Seahawks -- his best numbers against any team he's faced multiple times.
In the two matchups against the 49ers, the Seahawks have allowed 179.5 rushing yards per game. Having a versatile player with McCaffrey's skill set is a matchup nightmare for a Seahawks defense that allowed 4.9 yards per carry this season (26th in NFL). This isn't a favorable matchup for Seattle.
Geno Smith outside the pocket
Smith has been one of the biggest surprises of the season, leading the Seahawks to the playoffs after spending the majority of the past eight seasons as a backup quarterback. Now, Smith has the opportunity to become the first quarterback to win his first career playoff start 10-plus years into his NFL career since Rich Gannon in 2000.
Why has Smith been so good in 2022? Seahawks offensive coordinator Shane Waldron has done an excellent job of working with Smith's accuracy outside the numbers, as Smith has excelled when he's gotten outside the pocket. Smith has a 78% completion rate outside the numbers, which is the best in the NFL. On throws that have gone for 15-plus air yards, the 52% completion rate is second in the league. Smith also has the highest completion rate when pressured in the league (58%), showcasing the marked improvement he made as a passer with Seattle.
Regardless of how well Smith has played -- he had 15 touchdowns and a 94.7 passer rating in his last eight starts -- his 10 turnovers during that stretch were second in the NFL behind Dak Prescott. Smith will have to take care of the football if the Seahawks want to pull off the upset.
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Winning against a team three times in a season is tough (teams are 14-9 when facing an opponent for a third time), but San Francisco dominated Seattle in the two matchups this year. The 49ers outgained the Seahawks, 754 to 493, in the previous two meetings, having four takeaways to the Seahawks' none.
No. 2 seeds are 4-0 against No. 7 seeds since the playoffs expanded to seven teams in each conference. This is a tall task for Seattle, who has a huge mismatch in the trenches with its run defense and its tackles going against Nick Bosa.
Seattle has to control the ball and not turn the ball over to have a chance. The 49ers are really good.
49ers 27, Seahawks 17