In the lead-up to Thursday night’s 49ers-Seahawks clash at Levi’s Stadium, two things stand out statistically.
One is that for all the trouble the Niners have had with the Seahawks the past few seasons, San Francisco has dominated the series when it is the host.
Last season, the 49ers beat Seattle 19-17 at home. In 2012, the 49ers won 13-6. In Jim Harbaugh’s first season as head coach in 2011, the Niners prevailed 33-17. In fact, Seattle hasn’t won in the Bay Area since 2008.
So, when the Seahawks take the field at new Levi’s Stadium on Thanksgiving (5:30 p.m.), few in the organization will have any memory of coming out of the Bay Area with a victory.
In Seattle, of course, it’s been a different story. There, the Seahawks have dominated. They delivered a beat-down on the 49ers during the regular season in 2013, then won the rematch in the NFC Championship Game. Under Harbaugh and Seahawks coach Pete Carroll, the clashes between the NFC West rivals have been among the most spirited in the NFL.
Seahawks middle linebacker Bobby Wagner, in fact, says the games have featured a “physicality” that is special. He said the two teams’ defenses have been “the most physical in the conference.” So, he said, Thursday night’s should again be a terrific battle.
Oddsmakers have made the 49ers a slim 1½-point favorite, a nod to San Francisco’s home-field advantage. Otherwise the teams are evenly matched, with solid running games, mobile quarterbacks and defenses that rank first and second overall in the league (with Seattle No. 1).
Which brings us to the second thing that stands out statistically in this game: turnovers.
In a game as even as this one appears to be, the outcome could likely hinge on which team best takes advantage of its foe's mistakes.
On the one hand, San Francisco is the third-best team in the NFL this season with 22 takeaways. Only Houston and Green Bay have more. In 11 games, the 49ers have 16 interceptions and six recovered fumbles. Those takeaways have been huge in the team’s recent three-game winning streak, particularly in victories over the Saints and Giants. The Seahawks have only 15 takeaways on the year (seven interceptions, eight fumble recoveries).
On offense, meanwhile, the 49ers have 14 giveaways (six interceptions, eight lost fumbles) compared to just nine by Seattle (five interceptions, four fumbles). So the Seahawks have been much more careful with the football.
Overall, the 49ers are tied for fourth in takeaway-giveaway differential, with plus-8. The Seahawks are eighth, with plus-6.
So, the 49ers get a slight nod. But it’s slight.
But in Thursday night’s game – in which the loser will receive a severe dent in its playoff hopes -- the outcome will likely hinge on a slight advantage, such as the home field, or one less giveaway.
Harbaugh, for one, likes the way his team continues to battle to come up with though, slim victories. Many of the victories haven’t been pretty, but he doesn’t care. He points to the 49ers’ ability to come up big when it counts.
“You make a deposit in the toughness account,” he told reporters this week. “And you’ll be able to make withdrawals from that later down the road. We want to keep making those deposits.”
Thursday night might be a good time to make a withdrawal, too.