Wednesday, October 17, 2012

NFL WEEK 7 - THURSDAY NIGHT PREVIEW


SEATTLE @ SAN FRANCISCO
Divisional games are always tough.  They’re made even tougher on a short week after an emotional win or loss.  The Seahawks couldn’t be flying higher right now after stealing a 24-23 win from the Patriots in the final minutes last Sunday.  They find themselves tied for first in a division replete with elite defensive units. They’re joined by the 49ers, which are coming off their worst defeat in the Jim Harbaugh era.  Though the series between these two teams is tied, the Seahawks have dropped the last three games to San Francisco by a combined score of 92-55.

This year these teams have a lot in common.  In their two losses, both teams turned the ball over two or more times.  Both teams sport Top Five defenses and have allowed fewer than100 points.  Up until now, it seemed like the way to ground the 'Hawks was by stopping their running game and making them throw to beat you.  For the 49ers, that would seem to be prophetic, as in both of their losses their opponents amassed 149 rushing yards or more.  However, stopping Marshawn Lynch doesn't quite add up to a victory.  Just ask Green Bay and New England. 

Randy Moss' length is made to
stretch tight defenses
Yet though Seattle's 4-2 record is filled with upsets including Green Bay and New England, it feels a bit dubious.  Besides the Packers' victory which came down to a Hail Mary, the Seahawks are a negative two in the give/take category, one that will almost always catch up to a team over the long haul.  In their two victories, the Seahawks turned the ball over just twice, and QB Russell Wilson lost the ball once. Yet for all his heroics in those two games, Russell Wilson managed a combined 54 percent completion rate (26-of-48).  It's one of the reasons the Seattle's offense is ranked 29th overall, 31st in passing.  It's also no surprise that the 49ers win when they protect the ball.  Alex Smith threw five interceptions in all of 2011.  In games where Smith had zero interceptions last year, the 49ers never lost.  This year, in the two games where he's thrown his four interceptions, both ended up in 49ers losses.  Turnovers will be crucial in this one. 

Fantasy wise, both these teams are defensive gold.  Seattle and San Francisco are ranked fifth and seventh respectively in terms of fantasy points in ESPN standard scoring leagues.  In terms of match -ups against skill players, these defenses give up among the least out there, so unless you're playing a stud that you can't bench like RBs Frank Gore or Marshawn Lynch, there are much better match- ups out there.  Neither runner will torch the other team, but at home I'm putting my money on Frank Gore as the better of the two, delivering around 90 yards and a touchdown.  Lynch has better road numbers this year, but interestingly enough has never caught a touchdown pass outside of Seattle or Buffalo.  Thus PPR players beware. Though the Seahawks give up an average of just 17 fantasy points against a team's wide receivers this year, Alex Smith will have to seek out somebody besides TE Vernon Davis.  The Giants simply took Davis out of the game last week, and though Davis will get his looks this week, I expect Randy Moss to play an important role in this game.  I don't expect much from Michael Crabtree because Seattle has held him to 15 catches in five games.  I expect Seattle to focus on keeping him and Davis occupied.  Thus, Mario Manningham should see a lot of single coverage and will give you average numbers 5-6 catches for 70 yards.  But I expect Harbaugh to finally exploit Moss' height and jumping ability, this time for a TD.  Moss is going to be third man on the totem pole and likely matchup against a safety or nickel back. 

The 49ers shouldn't underestimate Wilson, and I expect his numbers could be decent, near 220 yards passing and a TD. Expect Pete Carroll to employ a similar strategy to the New England game, wherein he comes out throwing.  Sidney Rice will be a top target because of his size.  Expect 5-6 grabs for 75 yards and a possible TD.  However, the 49ers have allowed six passing scores to TEs this year, so Zach Miller could factor in very big in the red zone, assuming Anthony McCoy continues his string of catch-less games.  He's gone two a row without a reception now, making Miller a decent bye week fill-in. 

However, Wilson cannot continue to make mistakes at the rate he has and win.  The 49ers will be surly after having their defense torched at home against New York, and they'll make Seattle's night a very long one, causing Wilson to fall back into his turnover prone ways.

49ers 24, Seahawks 10