NFC West: Seattle Seahawks Steamroll San Francisco 49ers, Clinch Playoff Spot
By Brandon Burnett
Cold, Hard Football Facts Wizard of the NFC West (@B_Burnett49er)
The Seattle Seahawks are no longer just blowing out bad teams. Sunday night they disposed of one of the NFL's best. A division rival no less.
Seattle's 42-13 dismantling of the 49ers at CenturyLink Field marked the Hawks fourth straight win, and third in which they've outscored the opponent by 29 points or more.
The reward? A guaranteed spot in the playoffs, and potentially an NFC West crown should the Niners find a way to lose to Arizona in Week 17 and Seattle whitewash the Rams at home like it is clearly capable of doing.
For the 49ers, who were merely one week removed from conquering the Patriots in Foxborough, the blowout loss brings all sorts of bad news.
Not only did SF cough up its No. 2 seed and first-round bye to Green Bay, it saw Vernon Davis (concussion) and Mario Manningham (left knee) suffer injuries that ended their nights prematurely.
At 10-4-1, the 49ers are currently the NFC's No. 3 seed, and Seattle is the No. 5 seed at 10-5. The Rams' 28-13 road win in Tampa brings them to .500 at 7-7-1 and Arizona falls to 5-10 after another abysmal showing from its offense.
Here are five things we learned from Week 16 in the NFC West.
1. Seattle is a contender, a very dangerous contender. (49ers vs. Seahawks)
Seahawks fans have more than a handful of reasons to be smiling right now.
Pete Carroll unexpectedly handed rookie Russell Wilson the keys to the offense at the start of the year and my has it paid off. The third-round pick tossed four TD passes Sunday night and finished with a passer rating (115.3) of over 100 for the eighth time in 2012.
If he hadn't entered the Offensive Rookie of the Year discussion yet, he better be in it now.
Seattle has been steamrolling opponents lately. Wilson deserves a ton of credit for that, but not all of it. You don't go on a four-game winning streak in the NFL while outscoring your opponents 173-47 without dominating in every phase of the game.
The Hawks were already No. 1 in Bendability entering Week 16. They'd jumped to No. 8 in Scoreability after Week 15 and after needing just 346 yards to put up 42 points against San Fran, they'll be climbing even further.
Perhaps the most impressive stat of the Sunday night win was Seattle finishing 11 for 13 on third-down conversions. The 49ers came in to Week 16 at No. 2 in the NFL in stopping opponents on third down. SF was without All-Pro DE Justin Smith, who had not previously missed a game since his rookie season in 2001.
His absence was certainly noticeable on this night.
Seattle is now 7-0 at CenturyLink Field and one home win against St. Louis away from an 11-5 record. The Hawks are just 3-5 on the road, but have won their last two away from home.
2. The 49ers cannot seem to put together a three-game winning streak.
It's an odd trend, but the 49ers' streak of "win two, lose or tie one" is a concerning one as well.
The good news is that San Francisco still has not lost two straight under Jim Harbaugh, so a win at home to close the regular season with an NFC West title seems to be as close to a lock as they come.
But you can't win a Super Bowl without stringing together at least three victories.
San Francisco has now failed to do that five times in 2012. Now, what was once a relatively healthy roster has been completely ravaged by injuries. As previously mentioned, Davis and Manningham left early against Seattle and it's yet to be seen how long they'll be out.
WR Kyle Williams and RB Kendall Hunter were already lost for the year. RB Brandon Jacobs is suspended.
Depth across the offense is wearing thin, and once NFL sack leader Aldon Smith has suffered without Justin Smith on defense. Aldon has failed to record a sack in the past two games after racking up 19.5 in his first 13.
There are many questions to be answered in San Francisco with just one week of regular season action remaining. The 49ers can still capture the No. 2 seed, but could fall back to the No. 5 seed as well.
3. Janoris Jenkins manages steal the spotlight again. (Rams vs. Buccaneers)
Rams rookie CB Janoris Jenkins recorded his fourth interception of the season in the second quarter of Sunday's win over Tampa. It was his third pick-six of the year and fourth defensive TD—each of them serious momentum changers.
That's what Jenkins is, a momentum changer. He's put four scores on the board for St. Louis in 2012. Few entire defenses have as many defensive TDs as Jenkins has by himself.
At 7-7-1, the Rams are one win away from finishing over .500 for the first season since 2003. It's unlikely it'll taste victory at Seattle in Week 17, but St. Louis has come a long way from the 2-14 team it was a year ago.
Jeff Fisher's squad collected four interceptions against Tampa and forced five turnovers in all. This game proved that allowing heaps of yards is acceptable as long as you keep the opponent out of the end zone. The Bucs finished with 429 yards of offense but were only able to turn it into 13 points.
In addition to the five turnovers, St. Louis' defense recorded five sacks. The Rams entered Week 16 at No. 6 in Defensive Hog Index and further legitimized that ranking in this win.
St. Louis won't be in the playoffs this year, but can finish on a good note and give the NFC West three winning teams with an upset of the Seahawks in Week 17.
4. The Cardinals' offense went back to being atrocious after a one-week hiatus. (Bears vs. Cardinals)
Once again Arizona's defense turned in a fine performance. Once again, it will go unnoticed.
The Cardinals held Chicago to 297 yards of offense in their 28-13 Week 16 loss. The Bears managed just three third-down conversions on 13 attempts and the offense produced only 14 points.
But, as they've done several times this season, the Bears used defensive scores to win a ball game. Two to be exact, a first-quarter fumble return from one yard out and a third-quarter interception return from 10 yards out.
Days like these have become a common occurrence in the desert. Arizona turned the ball over three times and averaged 1.5 yards per carry in the run game, failing to record a single first down on the ground.
Ken Whisenhunt is so lost that he eventually replaced Ryan Lindley at quarterback with the recently signed Brian Hoyer. Hoyer finished with 105 yards and an interception after Lindley went for 141 and a pick.
Arizona entered Week 16 at No. 32 in Real Passing Yards per Attempt, Offensive Passer Rating, Real Quarterback Rating and Offensive Hog Index. Their play reflected those numbers rather well, wouldn't you say?
5. Looking ahead to Week 17 in the NFC West.
The Cardinals are probably wishing they could close out this miserable season against Detroit instead of San Francisco. Arizona lost to the Niners 24-3 at home back in Week 8 and now must travel to the Bay Area to face a 49er team that is outscoring opponents 106-26 after a loss or tie in 2012. SF's D will be looking to rebound in a big way, and this is the perfect opponent to do it against.
As previously mentioned, Seattle closes its regular season at home against St. Louis. The Rams have won four of their last five games, falling victim only to Adrian Peterson and the red-hot Vikings in Week 15. Minnesota is one of numerous teams riding a hot streak right now, but the Seahawks may be the hottest of them all.
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