San Francisco 49ers Clinch NFC West Title and First-Round Bye
By Brandon Burnett
Cold, Hard Football Facts Wizard of the NFC West (@B_Burnett49er)
For a second straight season, the San Francisco 49ers are your 2012 NFC West Champions.
Week 17 unfolded exactly the way the Niners wished it would, with them making quick work of the lifeless Cardinals at home while the Vikings dropped Green Bay in Minnesota.
San Fran's 27-13 win over Arizona capped off another winning season with an 11-4-1 record and the NFC's No. 2 seed.
Just like last season, the 49ers receive a free pass to the NFC's Divisional round. Unlike a year ago, they'll have a divisional foe joining them in the playoffs.
Seattle, who punched its ticket to the postseason a week ago, snuck past the Rams in a surprisingly close battle at CenturyLink Field on Sunday. The Hawks pulled out the 20-13 win to remain seated in the NFC's No. 5 seed. They'll head to Washington for a Wild Card bout with the NFC East-champion Redskins next weekend.
49ERS NEED WEEK OFF TO GET THEIR MINDS AND BODIES RIGHT
Kendall Hunter, Mario Manningham and Kyle Williams won't be coming back from their respective season-ending injuries, but All-Pro DE Justin Smith just might return from a partially torn triceps in time for a playoff run.
It's unknown how effective Smith can be if playing with the injury, but it's clear this team, particularly Aldon Smith, needs him around. Aldon had piled up a franchise record 19.5 sacks before Justin went down in Week 15 and failed to record a single sack the rest of the season.
TE Vernon Davis (Week 16 concussion) and several other banged-up 49ers won't be complaining about the extra resting time, either.
In addition to hurting physically, a very important piece of this team's playoff run is battling some troubling issues of the mental variety. Kicker David Akers, who set the NFL record for field goals in a season last year, missed two more kicks in Week 17. He nailed just 69 percent of his attempts in 2012 after hitting for 84.6 percent in 2011.
Akers started the year by booting a record-tying 63-yard field goal in Green Bay. It certainly did not end on such a positive note, but there's time for that to change if the 14-year vet can get himself right in the next two weeks.
SEAHAWKS COMPLETE BEST REGULAR SEASON SINCE 2005
The last time Seattle finished better than 10-6 (11-5 in 2012), it found itself playing the Steelers for Super Bowl XL in Detroit.
The destination this season is New Orleans, but this team has undeniably proven itself capable of getting there. The Hawks have won five straight and finished a perfect 8-0 at home in 2012.
Rookie QB Russell Wilson played yet another flawless game, finishing with a 136.1 passer rating while adding 58 yards and a TD on the ground. Marshawn Lynch scampered for exactly 100 yards to finish the season with 1,590 rushing yards on 315 attempts.
Seattle came into Week 17 as the No. 1 team in our Quality Stats Power Rankings and finished 5-0 in December. This team is blazing hot and arguably as well-rounded as anyone in the league.
In other words, you don't want to face the Seahawks in January.
WHAT'S NEXT FOR SEATTLE
The only team in the NFC holding a longer win streak than the Seahawks is the team they'll face in the first round, the Washington Redskins.
That's right folks. It's Russell Wilson vs. Robert Griffin III in the nation's capital this weekend.
RGIII and the Skins are miraculously winners of seven straight, storming back from a 3-6 start to snatch the NFC East title in the final week of the season. Washington came into Week 17 at No. 1 in Real Quarterback Rating, so that alone is compelling evidence regarding the No. 2 overall pick's magnificent rookie campaign.
Seattle's defense should be ready for the stiff challenge, however. The Hawks entered Week 17 at No. 3 in Defensive Real Quarterback Rating and will benefit from the return of suspended CB Brandon Browner just in time for the playoffs.
WHAT'S NEXT FOR SAN FRANCISCO
As previously mentioned, the Niners are the No. 2 seed and will happily be spectators for the Wild Card round.
The Atlanta Falcons, owners of the No. 1 seed in the NFC, will host the lowest seed remaining from the first round. So, if the No. 6 seeded Vikings can top the Pack in Green Bay, they'll visit Atlanta in the divisional round. But if Green Bay wins, the Falcons will host the winner of the Seahawks and Redskins while the Packers travel to San Francisco.
In other words, the 49ers can't draw the Vikings, so it's Green Bay, Washington or Seattle who they'll be hosting Jan. 12 on Fox.
San Fran has wins over Green Bay and Seattle in 2012 but was also dismantled by the Seahawks in Seattle two weeks ago.
We can play the "which team would the Niners rather face" game all day, but the truth is each of the three potential opponents are extremely dangerous, even with the game is to be played in San Fran.
Their main goal this week will be to rest up while the less fortunate teams battle for the right to play them.
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