NFC West Championship Preview: Niners-Seahawks go for the gold at Century Link Sunday

nbcsports.com file photo: The Seattle Seahawks Jadeveon Clowney (90) leaps to block San Francisco 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo (10) pass on Nov 11th at Levis Stadium. Jadeveon will be in the lineup on Sunday after suffering a core muscle injury.

By Joe Lami

SANTA CLARA–The biggest game of the year is here for the San Francisco 49ers and quite possibly since the Niners last made the playoffs in 2013 when they play the Seattle Seahawks. Sunday’s NFC West Championship game will also decide whether or not the Niners take the one seed and make the Super Bowl go through Levi’s Stadium.

Both the Niners and Seahawks are 2-2 in the last month. When they both appeared like unstoppable forces, they lost their mojo and have slumped. The Niners may have regained it last week when they came from two touchdowns behind to kicking a game-winning buzzer-beater.

While the Niners were celebrating their victory, they reclaimed the top-seed heading into the final weekend of the regular season. All thanks to Seattle’s 27-13 loss to Arizona. After racing out to a 7-0 lead, Seattle’s offense fell flat on their face after Chris Carson went down with a hip injury.

The Seahawks are decimated at running back and might prove to be their kryptonite. Carson went down just weeks after Rashaad Penny went down with a season-ending knee injury. They also lost third-stringer C.J. Prosise. With all of the injuries, they’ll see if Marshawn Lynch will be their superman, signing him to an emergency contract.

Lynch was suited up for the Oakland Raiders in 2018, playing in only six games but rushing for 376 yards and averaging 4.2 yards per carry. Without playing a single snap this season, who knows what Beastmode can bring to Seattle. But early reports could be positive.

“He looks great,” Wilson said. “He looks explosive. He looks fast. He looks strong. Quick as ever. He always has this infamous one-leg cut that he can do where he hops on one foot twice. He’s got some special things that he can do. He runs the ball hard, obviously.”

Regardless how fast or explosive Lynch looks, they’re likely bringing him back for extra pass protection for Wilson. He knows the offense and the terminology of Pete Carroll. It’s a natural fit for an emergency. The Seahawks will likely roll out Wilson after the Niners continue to look susceptible to quarterback speed outside the tackles.

Sunday’s game will also be a rematch of week 10’s Monday Night thriller. Russell Wilson threw for 232 yards and gashed the Niners for 53 yards in the overtime victory. When push came to shove, the MVP nominee showed up, and the Niners couldn’t stop him.

San Francisco’s defense continues to be one of the best defenses in the league, but they’ve have struggled of late. Over the last month, the Niners have only sacked the quarterback twice. The lack of a pass rush has allowed teams to torch the Niners. After not allowing 30 points all season, San Francisco has allowed 49, 29, and 31 points the last three games.

Teams have also discovered San Francisco’s hole in their rush defense. Allowing 111.8 per game, the Niners rank 17th in rush defense, their worst defensive stat.

After the hottest month of his career, Jimmy Garoppolo has cooled off the last two games, throwing 448 yards, two touchdowns, and two interceptions.

The Niners may be slowing down at the worst stretch of the season and when it matters most. Sunday’s game will determine how their post-season road will look. If they win, they’ll earn a first-round bye, home field advantage, and an extra week to get healthy. If they lose, they’ll face a hellish path through the NFC if they wish for a Super Bowl.

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