The two teams that hate each other the most without having a historic rivalry meet up in the feature game of the NFL on Thanksgiving, as the first encounter between the Seattle Seahawks and the San Francisco 49ers takes place, with the NFC West and even making the playoffs being on the line.
Last year it was a fair argument that both teams were the best in the NFL. This season? They’ve both regressed on both sides of the ball. The 49ers might have the suspension card to play with some of their defensive players, but others might suggest that they got lucky with players like Ray McDonald still playing and Aldon Smith getting off cheap compared to someone like Josh Gordon when you try and compare their infractions.
But this isn’t about hypothetical woulda coulda. The 49ers and the Seahawks are at 7-4, both of them not very convincing to this point. The 49ers have scored more than 17 points in a game just once over the last five, and had a lot of trouble putting away a terrible Washington Redskins team while playing at home. It’s often a very consistent script with the 49ers: A strong start and then struggling to put the game away for some reason, especially in the fourth quarter.
In 11 games, they have only 33 points in the fourth quarter, the lowest total in the NFL. They’ve scored just three touchdowns in the 4th this season, one of them a defensive one. An even more shocking stat: Blaine Gabbert has the same amount of touchdown drives in the fourth quarter for the Niners that Kaepernick has. Struggling with the offensive line, Kaepernick’s usual passing problems and Frank Gore not being as effective as in the past, with the play calling of Greg Roman and the overall atmosphere created by the stressing Jim Harbaugh being a big part of the decline.
For the Seahawks, people keep pointing fingers at the defense. They’re not intercepting as much (only 2% of pass attempts have been intercepted compared to 5.3% last season) and generally they’re not generating enough turnovers: They’ve forced 15 this season, 21st in the NFL. Last year at this time they were leading the NFL with 26 forced turnovers. But they are, along with the Niners, among the top two in the league when it comes to allowed yards by opponents. It’s not just the defense.
Just like with the Niners, the offensive line is a big cause for concern. The 49ers have given up 34 sacks so far this season, the Seahawks aren’t that far behind with 26. Both teams are in the bottom 10 in the league when it comes to putting a quarterback on his back, which means we might not see too many blitzes that open up lanes for Kaepernick and especially Wilson, running more than ever before this season.
There are a lot of teams that don’t like each other in the NFL, but it seems to be greater when it comes to the Seahawks and Niners. Maybe because this isn’t a traditional rivalry. It’s something newer, with two teams that have risen from dark times at the same time. From the coaches to the players to the fans, there’s not a lot of love in the case of these teams. Thankfully, it usually makes for some excellent football games.