The 49ers begin what hopes to be a deep postseason run on Saturday as they take on the familiar Seattle Seahawks. After avoiding each other for three months in the regular season, this will be the second time the two teams have played each other in the last 30 days. San Francisco outscored Seattle 48-20 in their two games this season, with their second win clinching the NFC West in Seattle.
With round three happening at Levi’s Stadium, here are the five players to watch for the 49ers:
QB Brock Purdy
All eyes will be on the 23-year-old rookie quarterback as he makes his first career playoff start on Saturday. He very much looked the part in the regular season, throwing for 11 touchdowns to just two interceptions in his five starts, with the 49ers going 5-0 in those games.
One of the five wins came last month with a 21-13 win over the Seahawks, with Purdy throwing for 217 yards with two touchdowns in Seattle. The 49ers have scored 30 or more points in four of Purdy’s five starts, with the only exception being Seattle's win.
CB Charvarius Ward and CB Deommodore Lenoir
Purdy won’t be the only quarterback making his first career postseason start on Saturday, as Geno Smith will also be making his. Smith has relied heavily on D.K. Metcalf and Tyler Lockett all season, connecting with the two receivers on 174 of his 399 completions. Seattle has shown to be more prone to throwing the ball against the 49ers this season, throwing 75 passes compared to 28 rush attempts in their two regular season games.
Metcalf hasn’t stood out in his two games against the 49ers this season, combining for just 90 yards on 11 receptions against the division rival. Smith went 5-for-7 for 38 yards and just one first down when targeting Metcalf against Ward this season. Metcalf will likely see a heavy dose of Mooney Ward on Saturday as he did last month when the 49ers cornerback lined up against Metcalf on 25 of 35 routes.
However, the receiver who handled the 49ers well for Seattle this season was Tyler Lockett. He finished with 175 yards on 16 receptions against the 49ers with nine receptions for 107 yards back in Week 2.
Lockett took a career-high 342 snaps out wide while finishing under 200 slot snaps for just the second time in his career. With Ward likely following Metcalf, Lockett will likely see plenty of Lenoir on the opposite side on Saturday. Lockett saw a small sample of Lenoir last month, catching all three targets against Lenoir for 39 yards in the Seahawks' loss.
The secondary has been a question the last few weeks, and Seattle has tried to throw the ball against the 49ers in both of their matchups. Ward has done well against Metcalf this season, while Lenoir has had his struggles and could have his hands full with Lockett.
WR Deebo Samuel and RB Christian McCaffrey
Saturday will mark the first time the 49ers will have both Samuel and McCaffrey available to face the Seahawks this season. McCaffrey was on the Panthers in September for the 49ers' first game against Seattle, and Samuel was just four days removed from being carted off the field with a knee and ankle injury when the 49ers played in Seattle last month.
Both players had their individual success against Seattle, Samuel totaling 97 yards in Week 2 and McCaffrey totaling 138 with a touchdown in Week 15, but the Seahawks' defense hasn’t been forced to handle the stress of dealing with both.
In three of the seven games the 49ers have had both Samuel and McCaffrey available, the duo has combined for more than 200 total yards. Those seven games include the loss to Kansas City, where McCaffrey played just 23 snaps three days after the 49ers acquired him, and last week, where Samuel was limited after returning from the aforementioned ankle and knee injury.
While it’s a small sample size, that’s still 60 percent of games with full availability where McCaffrey and Samuel have combined for 200 or more yards. The duo will face a Seattle defense on Saturday that allowed the seventh-most yards in the NFL this season.