The race for the NFC West has long been over.
At 11-1, the Seattle Seahawks – who crushed the visiting Saints Monday night – will be the division’s champion, breaking the two-year reign of the 49ers. And, the Seahawks will likely be the NFC’s top seed, meaning the road to the Super Bowl would have to go through Seattle, where the home team is just about unbeatable.
But this Sunday’s game at Candlestick Park between the Seahawks and 49ers is a very important one for San Francisco.
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First, at 8-4, the 49ers need every win they can get to lock up a playoff spot. As it stands now, the Niners would be the No. 6 seed in the NFC, meaning they’d be relegated to road games through the course of the postseason.
And, with a final four games against Seattle, Tampa Bay (3-9), Atlanta (3-9) and Arizona (7-5), the Niners don’t have an easy path. Three games appear winnable, but there are no guarantees.
But if the 49ers could knock off the Seahawks Sunday at Candlestick Park, it would not only give the Niners a huge morale boost in besting a team that has dominated San Francisco in its two previous meetings, but give the 49ers a chance to run the table and finish 12-4 with a large dose of momentum heading into the postseason.
Niners head coach Jim Harbaugh, often a diplomat in discussing his team’s next opponent, definitely wants a victory Sunday.
“We’re taking the revenge approach,” Harbaugh told Cam Inman of the Bay Area News Group Monday. “Validation. We want to play well. We want to win.”
The 49ers are going into the game with a two-game winning streak, with victories over the Redskins and Rams. On the plus side, wide receiver Michael Crabtree has returned to give the San Francisco passing game a boost. On the down side, left offensive tackle Joe Staley is likely out for a couple of games – but left guard Mike Iupati may return.
One 49er, Anquan Boldin, said Monday that he believes the 49ers still have their best football ahead of them, and that this team still has a chance to get “better each week.”
But tight end Vernon Davis, who’s coming off a big game against the Rams, says the 49ers can’t get too amped up for the Seahawks. As much as they’d like to prove a point and show everyone – including themselves – that they can beat Seattle, the Niners need to stay level-headed.
“We definitely have to control our emotions because if we don’t they’ll get the best of us,” Davis told the 49ers’ website. “We don’t need that to happen and guys know that. We have a mature team. Guys know how to handle themselves and how to control their emotions. With that being said, going forward we have to do everything we can to help this team.”
The 49ers lost in Week 2 at Seattle, 29-3, and lost big, 42-13, at Seattle in Game No. 15 in 2012. The last time San Francisco beat the ’Hawks was in Week 7 of last season, when the 49ers prevailed 13-6 at Candlestick when Alex Smith was still the team’s quarterback. In fact, the 49ers have won their past three games vs. Seattle in San Francisco.
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Because the 49ers have the home turf this Sunday, safety Donte Whitner believes his team can get the upper hand.
“They don’t have the crowd noise behind them to mess with our offense,” Whitner told 49ers. com. “On defense we feel like we can match up with them. All we have to do is stop the run and not allow the quarterback to run around and beat us. So, that’s why I feel like we can win.”
However, with the way Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson and running back Marshawn Lynch are playing this season those are some big “all we have to dos.”
On Sunday, the 49ers will see if they are up to the task.