Admit it—if you looked through the Thursday night schedule at the start of the NFL season, the Week 7 matchup between Seattle and San Francisco probably jumped out as a mismatch, and at the very least, a pretty dry game. It surely didn’t stand out as a battle with first place on the line in what is shaping up as the NFL’s most competitive division. But that’s exactly what we have as the 49ers and Seahawks get set to meet in what’s the best game of the Thursday night slate thus far.
Both teams are 4-2, and tied with Arizona in a three-way tie in the NFC West. St. Louis is only a game back at 3-3, so even though both the Niners and Seahawks are having good seasons, there’s no room for error. That’s an appropriate metaphor for this game, because it’s also one in which neither team will have any room for mistakes.
Seattle is off to a good start this season by mimicking the style San Francisco used in its dramatic turnaround last season. The Seahawks are running the ball well with Marshawn Lynch. They’re playing excellent defense in all phases. And, for the most part, they’re getting mistake-free play from rookie quarterback Russell Wilson. Whatever else you might be expecting, don’t look for a lot of points. The Over/Under on this game in Las Vegas is at 38, the only total under 40 in NFL Week 7.
Normally I would say the stylistic similarity works in favor of the underdog—as Seattle is a substantial one, getting a touchdown on the road. In this case, I’m not so sure. Wilson, as a rookie quarterback, has had his moments with mistakes.
A good example was the game at Carolina a couple weeks ago, where he threw two picks, but was able to bail himself out—with an assist from Cam Newton. The 49er defense is too good to get away with anything, and after a bad game last week, I think it unlikely Alex Smith does Seattle any free favors.
This brings us to the next point, which is that San Francisco is going to be in a motivated and angry mood after the beatdown they were handed by the New York Giants, while Seattle is riding an emotional high after rallying to beat New England.
The Seahawks are already traveling on a short week, and if they allow themselves to enjoy the Patriot win for even a moment, it was probably too much. Which basically means that a rookie quarterback who wasn’t even guaranteed a job in training camp has to immediately push out of his mind the fact that he not only beat, but outplayed Tom Brady. Sure, no problem.
The Seattle-San Francisco battle is part of a huge night of sports by the Bay—Game 4 of the National League Championship Series, involving the Giants, will also go down in prime-time. There might be more movement with the remote control in San Francisco than there will be with the respective offenses, but in the end I would expect the 49ers to restore some order, force Wilson into mistakes and get a win in the 24-10 neighborhood.
We’ll review the other major national games of NFL Week 7 in our regular Friday feature, and finish off today by touching on the Sunday undercard…
Arizona-Minnesota & Green Bay-St. Louis: The rest of the NFC West takes on the NFC North, with all but the Packers coming off a loss.
The inability of Arizona to run the ball has caught up with them the last two weeks and they aren’t the kind of offense that can force Minnesota quarterback Christian Ponder. So long as Ponder can work within the framework of Adrian Peterson running the ball, the Viking passing game can be efficient. Playing at home, the Vikes should control the tempo and get a grinding win.
Green Bay needs to bring the same kind of intensity to this game that they brought in their Sunday night thrashing of Houston. The Rams match up well with the Packers—defensive ends Robert Quinn and Chris Long can exploit the suspect Green Bay protection and the Ram pass defense ranks 6th in the league.
Where I think the difference in this game is that the Packers can create even more problems for Rams quarterback Sam Bradford, who won’t handle pressure nearly as well as Aaron Rodgers. The Green Bay quarterback will take his share of hits, but his team gets a key road win.
New Orleans-Tampa Bay & Dallas-Carolina: Two good games involving the three NFC South teams who are well behind Atlanta, but hoping to get in the wild-card picture, and the Cowboys who are also likely to be in the wild-card conversation.
Don’t rule out the 1-4 Saints from playoff talk just yet. They’re a 6-3 stretch away from getting themselves to .500 with two weeks to play, which would at least have them in the December conversation. This is a good matchup for them. Tampa Bay’s strength is defending the run, which is not something New Orleans is going to try. The Bucs’ pass rush isn’t great and to the extent they get one it comes from the quarterback’s open side, so Drew Brees will be able to see and react.
Even playing in Tampa, I like the Saints in this game. They’re coming off a bye while Tampa’s coming off an easy win over Kansas City and they don’t strike me as a team with the requisite focus to string together consistent performances. The caveat is that Jimmy Graham needs to be in the lineup. Right now the expectation is that he’ll play with his injured ankle, but he hasn’t practiced
If the Dallas-Carolina game is close down the stretch—and presumably it will be—who do you trust the least, Cowboy coach Jason Garrett or Panther quarterback Cam Newton? That’s a battle of late-game screwups there and almost makes choosing between Romney and Obama look positive by comparison.
The Panthers are coming off a bye and playing at home, and I also like the possibility of Newton making some plays if the Dallas defense gets aggressive with the linebackers. And if the Dallas defense doesn’t get aggressive with the linebackers than they’ve lost their identity, since they’re built around Demarcus Ware rushing the passer. I’ll take Carolina in a squeaker marked by fourth-quarter mistakes on both sides.
Tennessee-Buffalo: The rematch of the Music City Miracle, the stunning first-round playoff victory pulled off by the Titans in 1999, has turned out to have some unexpected meaning. Tennessee upset Pittsburgh at home, while Buffalo caught Arizona at home and both teams kept their seasons alive. The Titans have a higher upside now that Kenny Britt as back at receiver and even though their running game ranks 31st, we saw signs last week that Chris Johnson might be getting into form. I’d lean Tennessee to pull out a win on the road and certainly take them with the field goal plus the hook.
Cleveland-Indianapolis: Remember last year’s Fiesta Bowl? Stanford and Oklahoma State played a fantastic game that Okie State eventually won 41-38. The quarterbacks were Andrew Luck and Brandon Weeden. Just see if you can find a rerun of that game—it would be less painful than watching this one.
Jacksonville-Oakland: Another awful game that really makes the people of Oakland wish they had baseball still in action. But if nothing else, they’ll likely get a win. Neither team is doing a lot well, but Carson Palmer and Darren McFadden are at least capable of making something happen.