Golden Nuggets: 49ers at Seahawks; Game of the year in NFC West

Cary Edmondson-US PRESSWIRE

Sunday, December 23, 2012 edition of the Golden Nuggets, a daily compilation of 49ers links from around the web. We take a look at the build up going into the Niners' big clash with the Seahawks in Seattle on Sunday Night Football. Bragging rights and playoff momentum are on the line.

Well, this is the second week in a row that our 49ers have a massive road game. Last week we beat the New England Patriots and this week we head into Seattle to take on the Seahawks at CenturyLink Field, one of the toughest places to play in the league. You'll remember they set off the Richter Scale when Marshawn Lynch went 'beast mode' in the playoffs two years back. I've been snooping around on Twitter, spying on some of the Seahawks fans. They're very confident following back-to-back games in which their offense scored 50+ and the team and their fan base knows this is a statement game for them. Winning clinches their playoff spot and shows that they're able to play with the best in the league.

As for the 49ers, we need the game as well. Losing means we likely slide out of the No. 2 seed and lose the first-round bye that goes along with it. If we end up No. 3, the No. 6 seed would be our first-round date, and most of those teams don't threaten us. But it would mean we have to play at No. 2 Green Bay, if that matchup comes to pass. Atlanta has just beat the Lions, securing the No. 1 seed in the NFC, so that's no longer in play. But who's afraid of the Falcons, anyway? Honestly, they're about 4th on my 'worry list' in the NFC.

How do you rank the NFC playoff contenders for the difficulty they pose us. So while the Giants might lose at Atlanta, are you afraid of them coming to Candlestick? Now there's a monkey to get off of our back...

So, with a mildly slow news day...here goes my ranking of the 'others'. It makes no consideration for any teams' likelihood of making the playoffs, only the threat they pose us. What do you guys think?

1. Green Bay (I think they're the second-best in the NFC and if we have to play @GB.....yikes! Defense is underrated but lack of a running game should haunt them)

2. New York (For psychological reasons as much as anything. How could you ever count out Eli Manning in the playoffs?)

3. Seattle (They always play us tough and close...what happens tonight will likely alter my opinion. In a low-scoring game, one big play can be the difference...I'm looking at Mr. Skittles)

4. Atlanta (Falcons are far less threatening than Patriots, had such an easy schedule it's hard to judge them)

And this is where it gets harder.

5. Dallas (I think that when they play they're best they can compete with anyone...that's a 1-in-3 chance, though)

6. Redskins (RGIII is wild. Such a threat at any point, any play, any situation, anywhere... Think our D, especially our linebackers and safeties would slow him down. We don't miss tackles or assignments!)

7. Vikings (Yes, we lost to them. Yes Adrian Peterson is amazing. If they sneak into the playoffs Christian Ponder loses their 1st game for them)

8. Bears (Can't even imagine a scenario where they make the playoffs. If they do, who is afraid of them? To make the playoffs, though, they'd have to catch fire...and teams on fire...)

On to the links....

Week 16: 49ers at Seattle

Hey it's that time of the week when I dump my preview piece from Bay Area on your cyber doorstep, ring the bell and run. 49ers' O-line dominated in epic proportions in Week 7 and Seattle has been on a slide against the run. I expect LaMichael James and Colin Kaepernick to get some big runs (either of them 1-on-1 against a safety in the open field equals danger for the Seahawks). 49ers 24-20. What do you think? | Will the Niners run wild in Seattle to clinch the NFC West? (Malone)

Here's a right up from the good people at Yahoo! on the two young quarterbacks that figure to play a big part in tonight's showdown. Who's better? I like what Russell Wilson has done, but I don't see him getting too much better. Colin Kaepernick on the other hand, is playing at the same level, but the sky's the limit. So, right now, I think they're very comparable, but I'd bet on Kap futures if I were a gambling man. | Battle in Seattle: New QBs central to simmering rivalry (Yahoo!)

This one figures to be a doozy. Last game, Michael Crabtree was held quiet by the Seattle secondary, but who needed to pass when Frank Gore, behind one of the most dominating displays of O-linemanship, was running untouched all over the field. I think Crabs gets the better of Richard Sherman, who's had a big week flying all over the country trying appeal his Adderall suspension. Plus Crabs' level of play is way higher than what it was in Week 7. | Key matchup No. 3: Michael Crabtree vs Richard Sherman (Maiocco)

Well, one of the big questions going into the game is whether or not Justin Smith will play. If he does, our defense is exponentially better, as he makes everyone around him better. This piece cites an anonymous source as saying he's not expected to play. C'mon 'Cowboy'! | Justin Smith not expected to play Sunday, according to source (Sando)

Another key matchup involves Ricky Jean-Francois. If he's forced to play, either as the starter or if Smith is limited in any way, he'll need to come up big. The 49ers' run defense was the one unit that outplayed their Seahawks' counterpart in Week 7. We'll need the run D to play at the same level if we expect to win at the CLink. | Key matchup No. 2: Ricky Jean-Francois vs Paul McQuistan (Maiocco)

49ers, Seahawks meet with NFC West title hanging in balance (SI.com)

West Coast clash heads drama for playoff spot (Yahoo!)

Seattle expects Sydney Rice, Richard Sherman to play (Yahoo!)

Update: 49ers now 1-point favorites vs Seahawks (CSN Bay Area)

Kaepernick, Seattle rookie share traits (Branch)

49ers vs Seahawks: Five keys to victory (Gin)

Assorted 49ers News

Matt Maiocco takes a look at the salary cap information for the 2013 49ers. Dashon Goldson is the big name on the list who's not signed. The cap room saved by moving/cutting Alex Smith would allow us to resign Goldson, if that's what Harbaalke choose to do. Who came up with Harbaalke, anyway? | 49ers up against 2013 cap (Maiocco)

What to do with our return game? Ted Ginn Jr.'s play has been shockingly bad of late. LaMichael James is holding his own on kickoff duties. Can he make the move to PR? If so, Ginn is a wasted roster spot as he's been non-existent in the passing game and has become unreliable in the return game. Someone (can't remember who) mentioned they might let Ginn handle the duties this weekend and let LMJ have his chance in what will hopefully be a meaningless Week 17 encounter. | Does Ginn remain best option at punt returner? (Inman)

And this is what we all fear. I think that LaMichael James needs to be able to hit the hole fast and strong and earn more carries. If you read my preview...he's got 40 yards on 3 carries and 21 yards on the other 13 carries. That's quite a few negative or 1-yard gains. I bring this up because....Frank Gore is wearing down!...If you believe BASG, which I do. | Is Frank Gore wearing down (BASG)

Joe Staley: 49ers gunning for a first-round bye (Barrows)

2012 49ers reminiscent of glory years (SF Gate)

Videos

Press pass: Joe Staley (49ers.com)

49ers look to clinch NFC West (49ers.com)

The lunch box - - Vernon Davis' gallery opening (CSN Bay Area)

That's it. Give some comments. What's your predictions for the game? Anyone think the Seahawks are gonna win, and are brave enough to admit it? And, of course, play the 'Rating Playoff Foes' game. I'll be on Twitter leading up to and during the game. Look forward to chatting. Malone, out.

Being a Sheep

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