Don't believe anyone who tries to tell you the 49ers-Seahawks game on Sunday night is just another game.
And we're not saying that because of the eyebrow-raising mock wager Russell Wilson and Colin Kaepernick put on it. Or because of the silly He Said, She-Hawk Said between Anthony Dixon and K.J. Wright. Or because 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh earlier this year implied that the Seahawks are a bunch of PED-pumped cheaters, prompting Brandon Browner to say he would like to get his hands around Harbaugh's neck and Golden Tate to say he would give Harbaugh the "Sean Lee treatment" if they ever met on the field.
Of course, with all of that build-up, what else do you need?
But, in addition to all of the emotion attached to this growing NFC West rivalry, there is some logic behind the "This game is big" mantra. A win would establish Seattle as the top team in the division, keeping the Hawks on track to win the title and setting up a possible sweep of the 49ers in December, and it would shift the momentum in the series firmly to Seattle, which blew out San Francisco 42-13 last December.
It also would make the Seahawks 2-0 for the 10th time in the franchise's 38 seasons -- they made the playoffs in five of the nine other seasons (three times under Mike Holmgren and twice under Chuck Knox) and missed at 10-6 in a strong AFC in 1986.
That's how important this game is. It's a table setter for things to come.
Case in point: If the Seahawks had swept the Niners last season rather than split home games, Seattle would have won the NFC West and been the No. 2 seed in the NFC (behind Atlanta).
Last season, the first meeting was in Week 7 in San Francisco, where the 49ers ran through the drop-prone Seahawks in a tight 13-6 win. The Hawks were still finding their way on offense, and the cracks were just starting to show in their run defense, which surrendered 131 yards to Frank Gore.
The second game, in Seattle in Week 16, belonged entirely to the Seahawks, who blew out Kaepernick and Co. 42-13 behind a dominant defensive performance and four TD passes by Wilson.
The 49ers did not have All-Pro defensive lineman Justin Smith in that game (it wouldn't have mattered), but they will this time. That alone will change the dynamic a bit as Seattle's beleaguered offensive line comes up with a way to handle the monster defender in addition to Patrick Willis, Aldon Smith and Co.
“He (Justin Smith) makes a huge difference," Seattle offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell told reporters this week. "I feel like he is one of the leaders over there. He’s been playing a long time, he’s very savvy with his technique, he gets great push. He does some really nice work with the games with Aldon. You know, now they are moving Aldon around and they are moving Ahmad (Brooks) around as well. He’s able to help those guys and free them up.”
The Niners are coming off a 34-28 win over Green Bay that was helped by some poor officiating (the Packers just don't have much luck against the NFC West in that department, apparently).
Kaepernick threw for a career-best 412 yards and had three TD passes (one after the ref's errant rule application extended the drive).
Anquan Boldin had a monster game (13 catches, 208 yards) in his debut with the 49ers, but he is facing a much better secondary this week -- one that will be even better if Browner (hamstring) returns.
Wilson is coming off a career-best 320-yard game as well, but the Hawks will be most focused on the running game -- on both sides of the ball.
Seattle's coaches took the blame for the nonexistent running game (70 yards on 26 carries) last week at Carolina and figure to have a much better plan for the 49ers.
"We didn’t run the ball very well," coach Pete Carroll told reporters Monday. "In our program, as you guys know, that’s a huge focus, and so we were disappointed.
"We didn’t zero in early enough where we could make the adjustments that we normally make," Carroll explained. "It just took us a while. At the end of the game, we were able to run the ball enough to make the drives that we needed and things worked out. It just took us longer than we needed in that game in particular."
The Seahawks ran well against the 49ers in both games last season. In the first game, in which the 49ers had Justin Smith, Seattle gained 136 yards on 29 attempts, and Marshawn Lynch ran for 103 yards on 19 carries. In the second game, the Hawks ran for 176 yards on 39 attempts and Lynch had 111 on 26 carries.
The Niners, on the other hand, were held to 82 rushing yards in the second game (28 by Gore) after running through the Hawks in the first game using a lot of trap plays.
Richard Sherman, who picked off a pass in the end zone and returned a blocked field goal 90 yards for a touchdown in the blowout win in Seattle, told reporters, “I think you start with the run game."
"They have an incredibly consistent run game; that’s their bread and butter," he said. "They run a lot of play action and run a lot of deep routes off of play-action pass because their run game is so potent. So we have to be able to stop their run game to start off with. And once we can stop their run game, or contain it a bit, then we can focus on everything else. So you work inside out.”
But even Sherman would not concede that this game was bigger than any other or that this rivalry might now be the best in the NFL.
“I don’t know. I think the NFC West is one big rivalry, to tell you the truth," he said. "I don’t know if this is any bigger than us and the Rams or us and the Cardinals, or the Cardinals and the Rams or the 49ers and the Rams. The 49ers and the Rams had a good rivalry last year within the games. So I think the whole NFC West is just one huge big rivalry with a lot of teams that can battle and win a lot of games.”
We won't disagree, especially with Jeff Fisher's Rams having gone 2-1-1 vs. the 49ers and Seahawks last season, but let's not pretend the 49ers-Seahawks game on Sunday night is just another game.