The Seahawks and 49ers are both playoff bound, but there's still a ton a stake when those two face off Sunday night at CenturyLink Field. The winner will earn the NFC West title, while the loser will be the NFC's No. 5 seed and have to go on the road next weekend for the wild card round of the playoffs. The Seahawks (11-4) also have a shot at a first-round bye depending on what the Packers and Saints do on Sunday, while the 49ers (12-3) are playing for the NFC's No. 1 overall seed with a win.
To learn more about this week's opponent, we reached out to 49ers.com senior reporter Keiana Martin with five questions about the 49ers:
Q: Obviously there's a ton at stake this weekend for both teams. How are the 49ers approaching this week with the division and the No. 1 seed on the line?
Martin: We've all heard the saying "act like you've been here before" when it comes to these playoff-caliber matchups. But if you think about it, this is the first trip to the playoffs for the vast majority of this 49ers locker room. (Their first trip to the playoffs since 2013 to be exact). They surely aren't shying away from the opportunity. This young team is fully aware of what's at stake.
However, similar to the Seahawks, the 49ers aren't changing their approach in this NFC West title showdown. Defensive coordinator Robert Saleh said it best when referring to the "rivalry" matchup, referencing the Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly comedy "Step Brothers," saying "It's not the Catalina Wine Mixer. It's not the biggest deal in the world." He continued, emphasizing that every day is a championship practice, rep, play and game, and this week's matchup is no different, regardless the opponent or what's on the line.
Q: San Francisco's dominant defense and pass rush seems to have come back to earth just a bit in recent weeks. Any cause for concern or just a little bump in the road?
Martin: Just like all teams, everyone is dealing with their share of injuries in Week 17. Unfortunately for San Francisco, it's come by the way of its top-ranked defense. San Francisco has been without their star pass rusher Dee Ford, who is expected to miss his sixth game of the season on Sunday. Ford's recent hamstring injury came right on the heels losing fourth-year defensive lineman Ronald Blair III, who was off to a career year before suffering a season-ending ACL injury. Adding that to D.J. Jones (ankle), Damontre Moore (arm) and several other key pieces of the defensive line has certainly taken its toll on what was once the deepest position group on the roster.
San Francisco has noticed a decline in its pass defense as well while missing cornerback Richard Sherman (hamstring), K'Waun Williams (concussion) and safety Jaquiski Tartt (ribs) in recent weeks. Since, Sherman and Williams have returned, and Tartt has made his first appearance at practice since Week 13. Tartt was ruled doubtful heading into Sunday's divisional matchup, however, if he does become cleared for return, he'll provide a major boost for the defense.
Q: George Kittle missed the last meeting between these two teams. Just what does he mean to San Francisco's offense when he's on the field?
Martin: George Kittle isn't just one of the most exciting players to watch this season, he has become one of the most reliable pass catchers on the 49ers roster. Teams are forced to game plan against San Francisco's duel-threat tight end. Through 16 weeks, Kittle leads the team in receptions (78) and receiving yards (967). Where he truly thrives is his ability to break tackles as Kittle leads all tight ends in yards after the catch (551).
But what is largely overlooked is his impact as a blocker. Kittle has been key in San Francisco's second-ranked rushing offense. He's a complete tight end whose presence can't be overstated, which was undoubtedly evident in the 49ers Week 10 loss to the Seahawks.
Q: Not that Jimmy Garoppolo wasn't having a good season already, but what did his final drive last week, featuring two third-and-16 conversions, do for his confidence/the team's confidence in him. And on a related note, what are his thoughts on playing at CenturyLink Field for the first time?
Martin: It wasn't Garoppolo's best outing last week against the Los Angeles Rams. However, the quarterback came to life when his team needed him the most with those two crucial third down conversions that led to the game-winning field goal. Garoppolo was on the receiving end of a season-high six sacks, two of which occurred on that final drive. If anything, Garoppolo proved he's resilient. The common theme around the locker room after Saturday's win was that their confidence has never wavered with Garoppolo under center. He's proved multiple times that he's able to put the team on his back when he's needed the most.
Sunday will mark Garoppolo's biggest test of the season. Garoppolo fared well in the 49ers back-to-back road matchups at M&T Bank Stadium followed by the unforgiving Mercedes-Benz Superdome in Weeks 13 and 14 – two games he believes were good preparation for Sunday. Oddly enough, the quarterback embraces the lively atmosphere. Garoppolo recalled being on the sidelines during the Week 13 loss in 2018, saying, "It's hostile. It gets loud. Crowd's chirping at you and everything on the sideline. That's what makes football great, especially this time of year. You couldn't ask for anything more in December."
He'll surely get his wish on Sunday.
Q: Outside of the obvious big-name players, who are a couple names to watch that could be X-factors in Sunday's game?
Martin: Raheem Mostert has been one of San Francisco's X-factors over the past several weeks. The undrafted running back has registered at least one rushing touchdown in each of the 49ers past four games. I'll add Matt Breida to the list as well. Breida was active but did not have any touches in Week 16's win over the Rams. According to Kyle Shanahan, it wasn't the plan for the running back to not play a snap, however it happened to work out that way. But the fellow undrafted back should be well rested for Sunday's primetime matchup on the road. With Mostert (715), Breida (607) and Tevin Coleman (533), the 49ers are one of two teams in the NFL to have at least three players with 500-plus rushing yards on the season (Baltimore - 3 players). Any one of those guys are capable of having a hot hand on Sunday.
I'll throw in one more guy - Kendrick Bourne, another undrafted player who has flown under-the-radar this season. The third year wideout is tied with Kittle for a team-high five receiving touchdowns on the season. Shanahan has gone on record saying Bourne has "some of the better hands on the team." I think fans got a chance to see that on the crucial 3rd-and-16 conversion on the 49ers game-winning drive last week.