The San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks have seen their rivalry develop into the best one in football. They have fought tooth and nail for the NFC West the last two years, they had their epic NFC Championship Game last season, and of course, there is always Jim Harbaugh and Pete Carroll. We have seen some talk among the players, and even more so among the fans, as there is no love lost between the two teams. When a rivalry revolves around the ultimate prize, this is no surprise.
And yet, this year, the dynamic around this rivalry is different heading into Thanksgiving. This remains an extremely important matchup for both teams, with significant playoff implications. And yet, this year, the hatred each fanbase might have toward the other is replaced, or at least complemented by a healthy dose of desperation. There is a very significant chance one of these two teams is sitting at home in January when the playoffs start. Few people want to admit right now that their 7-4 squad might spend January at home, but in the back of our minds, we know it is entirely possible.
This is an interesting bit of fallout from the NFL's decision to schedule both 49ers-Seahawks games in the final five weeks of the season. If one of these games had been scheduled as the Week 1 kickoff game, or at some point in September, the playoff vitriol and what we've seen the last two years would be there. By moving it back into late November, there is a difference to it.
And that was a risk the NFL ran by making this decision. If the game was played as the Week 1 kickoff game, I think we would have seen some record television ratings. Thursday's game will still do tremendous ratings, and people will talk about it plenty throughout the day, but both teams are not playing as well as many thoughts heading into the season. It lacks a certain something on the national level.
Of course, it also does not help that it was schedule on a Thursday, a few days after both teams played. Every team has to go through the Sunday-Thursday set-up, but that does not make it any better. And given the physicality we can expect to see from this game, it makes it even more of an annoyance.
None of this is to take away from the importance of this game. Rather, it is to point to why the dynamic just feels different. The later scheduling and the short week are part of it, but I really think how each team is playing has contributed significantly to this feeling I have. It is desperation time, which means I have less time to be annoyed by the Seahawks. Instead, I am spending my time hoping and praying the 49ers figure out a way to emerge victorious and hang around the playoff race.