The San Francisco 49ers, one of the favorites to win the Super Bowl, are the hottest team in the NFL heading into the postseason. San Francisco has a 10-game win streak, the ninth team to enter the playoffs with a double-dight win streak and the first since the 2019 Baltimore Ravens.
Can the 49ers reach the Super Bowl? The 49ers are the 13th team in the Super Bowl era to end the season on a 10-plus game win streak -- and five of the previous 12 reached the Super Bowl (three of them won). San Francisco has the No. 1 defense in points and yards allowed, the first time in franchise history the 49ers reached those marks.
Making the 49ers' end-of-season run more incredible is the emergence of Brock Purdy, who is 5-0 in his five starts after being the final pick in the 2022 NFL Draft. Not only are the 49ers averaging 33.6 points per game in Purdy's five starts, but he has the highest passer rating (119.0) in his first five career starts since Kurt Warner and the second highest amongst all quarterbacks since 1950.
The first matchup of Super Wild Card Weekend pins the 49ers against the Seattle Seahawks, who will be meeting for the third time this year. San Francisco won the first two matchups by a combined score of 48-20 and is favored to win the third showdown as well.
How can San Francisco take care of business against Seattle? Here are three reasons why the 49ers will emerge victorious:
1. Christian McCaffrey has the Seahawks number
McCaffrey wasn't on the 49ers for the Week 2 matchup against the Seahawks, but the trade deadline acquisition made his presence felt in a Week 15 victory. San Francisco gave McCaffrey the football a season-high 32 times against the Seahawks on a short week, 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 mean McCaffrey is set 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.
With Elijah Mitchell healthy, it wouldn't be surprising to see the 49ers control the ground game with him and McCaffrey, especially since McCaffrey presents so many matchup problems for the Seahawks defense. He could be in store for a busy afternoon.
2. Geno Smith struggles against the 49ers defense
Smith has deserved all the accolades that have come his way this season. Earning a Pro Bowl selection for the first time at 32 years old, Smith led the NFL in completion percentage (69.8%) while setting the franchise record for passing yards in a season (4,282). Smith also threw for 30 touchdowns to 11 interceptions, finishing with a 110.9 passer rating as he's set to make his first playoff start.
While Smith has been excellent this season, the 49ers defense has gotten the better of him. Smith has just an 87.9 passer rating in two games against the 49ers this season, but a 102.3 rating against everybody else. He led the league in passing touchdowns thrown 15-plus yards downfield this season, but didn't have any in the two games against San Francisco. Smith's average pass distance was 3.4 yards shorter downfield against San Francisco this season compared with every other team.
Here's a closer look at how Smith performed against the 49ers compared to the rest of the league:
Geno Smith by opponent (2022 season)
|vs. 49ers||Rest of NFL|
Yards per attempt
Average pass distance
Nick Bosa has certainly played a role in the Smith's struggles. The Defensive Player of the Year candidate had three sacks, two forced fumbles, 13 pressures and eight quarterback hits in two games against Seattle this year. Bosa faces a mismatch against the Seahawks offensive tackles, which rank in the bottom 10 in sacks and hits allowed this season.
Charles Cross and Abraham Lucas have been bright spots on the offensive line, but both are still developing as pass blockers. The Seahawks offensive tackles have allowed 17 sacks and 17 quarterback hits this year, another reason why Smith has struggled against perhaps the best defense in the NFL.
If the 49ers can rattle Smith early -- similar to the previous two meetings -- the Seahawks offense may be in for a long afternoon.
3. George Kittle is a matchup nightmare for the Seahawks
Kittle has been red hot as of late on the receiving end, catching 18 passes for 265 yards and seven touchdowns over the past four games -- proving he's still one of the elite tight ends in the game. Kittle started his hot streak in Week 15 against the Seahawks, when he caught two touchdown passes and finished with four catches for 93 yards in Brock Purdy's first road start.
In Purdy's five starts, Kittle has 22 catches for 293 yards and seven touchdowns (13.3 yards per catch). He's been a prominent pass-catcher in the offense with Deebo Samuel out, and a reliable pass catcher for Purdy in the middle of the field. Even with Samuel expected back, Kittle will still be a prominent target in the offense thanks to how poor Seattle has been against tight ends this season.
The Seahawks allow the second-most receiving yards to opposing tight ends this season (1,115), allowing 79 catches and 14.1 yards per catch. Kittle should have a huge advantage in the middle of the field in an offense that thrives finding players in open space, creating yards after the catch. The 49ers tied for the NFL lead in yards per catch after the reception (6.6), while the Seahawks were the second-worst defense in the same category (6.1).
Kittle should thrive in the passing game Saturday, and that hot streak is very likely to continue another week.