Heading into Week 16, the look-ahead line for the San Francisco 49ers final regular-season game against the Seattle Seahawks was a “pick em.” Then Seattle lost to the Cardinals and got hit with some key injuries, while the Niners beat the Rams. Seattle struggled to stop Arizona’s ground game. Even if you take away Kenyan Drakes 80-yard touchdown (which isn’t how this works), the Cardinals had 173 yards rushing averaging 4.4 yards per carry. Their defense sacked Russell Wilson five times while holding the Seahawks passing offense to 169 yards. The 49ers didn’t exactly win convincingly, but they won.
After all that, San Francisco is now three-point favorites for Sunday’s game, with the total set at 47. So Vegas is expecting a score of around 25-22. If I were a gambling man, I’d take whatever winnings I had for the weekend and put it on the road team. Records don’t tell the full story. No stat does, but point differential gives you a better idea. The 49ers point differential on the season is +164. The Seahawks point differential is +12. That is worse than the Rams, Buccaneers, and Eagles. Both teams are banged up, and I know San Francisco is the road team, but this line should be closer to five, in my opinion.
By the numbers
Let’s take a look at some numbers since the last time these two teams faced off. It’s noteworthy that the Seahawks had their bye Week 11, so they played one less game. Here is a look at both defenses:
Remember that defensively it’s better to be in the negative’s in DVOA as positive numbers represent more scoring. The 9% difference is like going from the Bears seventh-ranked defense to the Seahawks 14th ranked defense, using DVOA’s season numbers. It’s a significant difference.
As far as the explosive plays go, the lower the number, the better. Both teams have done a great job of limiting big passing plays over the last month. The same cannot be said for each defense’s ability to contain the run. I don’t believe the 49ers defense will need to worry about as many 20+ yard runs with a running back that hasn’t played football in over a year.
League average success rate is around 48%, which means, despite all of our critiques, San Francisco’s pass defense has still been above average. The unit just is not performing at the same clip is was during the first half of the season. The 49ers defense was in the mid 30%’s, which was never sustainable. When you factor in the lack of pass rush, 45% for the defense is impressive. Similar to stopping the big play on the ground, both teams struggle to stop the run on a down-to-down basis.
Flip to the other side of the ball since Week 11, and both offenses have been above average, but one team has really taken their game to another level:
The bigger the DVOA number here, the better. Anything over zero is considered above average. On the season, the Ravens have the best offensive DVOA at 29%. San Francisco has been able to do whatever they want; it’s just a matter of two things. Will they make a boneheaded mistake, or will they convert in the red zone. The only thing that has stopped the 49ers is the 49ers.
Chris Carson and Rashad Penny had their fair share of big runs over the past month. The Marshawn Lynch we all remember was a terror to tackle. There’s no telling what version of Lynch we’ll see Sunday. As for San Francisco’s running game, they’ve been below average on a down-to-down basis but still haven’t had any issues with the big play.
Seattle not being able to generate 20+ yard pass plays will be a big factor in this game, as will their ability to not pressure Jimmy G. When Garoppolo has time, he carves defenses up. He’ll have that George Kittle guy this time around against Seattle, that, and some of the other numbers above are why the 49ers are favored.