San Francisco 49ers @ Seattle Seahawks: Wilson can double the dose for Niners at CenturyLink

Russell Wilson Hawks
Countdown to launch: Russell Wilson is still a gamechanger under center for the Hawks

Romilly Evans expects Russell Wilson to secure bragging rights in the NFC West by landing rare double over the staunch San Francisco defense...

"The Niners' troika of Matt Breida, Tevin Coleman and Raheem Mostert looked more Reliant Robin than Ferrari when these two teams last met"

San Francisco 49ers @ Seattle Seahawks
Start-time: Monday, 01:15
Live on Sky Sports Action

Overlooked Hawks can circle in on the NFC West divisional title

It's all on the line for the NFC West title in this regular season finale - maybe even a first-round bye too, if other conference results fall favourably before kick-off. Small wonder, then, that this curtain raiser to the playoffs, in which both the Seattle Seahawks and the San Francisco 49ers will be involved regardless of this Monday Night Football result, has been granted a battlefield promotion to the primetime slot by the TV schedulers.

The reverse fixture in Santa Clara brought together the words "hum" and "dinger" in an 27-24 nerve-jangler where both teams blew easy opportunities to win in normal time. And you get a sense that this game, even rehoused at Seattle's decibel-dominatrix of a stadium, will again come down to one or two key plays and who maintains their composure in the rarefied air and rocking walls of CenturyLink Field.

Although standing at an attractive 11-3, the Hawks' best performances have uncharacteristically not arrived at home this year. So, while CenturyLink Field may've mislaid some of its lustre as a house of horrors, it's lost none of its noise. And that could spell trouble for the San Francisco raiding party, under the guidance of the highly-touted but still inexperienced Jimmy Garoppolo.

There's a tempting urge to prick his bubble reputation as the season nears its sharp end, even against a Seahawks secondary that can't hold a candle to the storied Legion of Boom that preceded them. Garoppolo's problem is pressure - and this Seattle D, not to mention the hometown faithful, will bring it in newtons.

In fact, it seems innovative defensive schemes can get inside Garoppolo's helmet and return him to his rookie roots, NFL poster boy though he already is. To my jaundiced eye, this 28-year-old can be prone to panic and sometimes struggles to communicate with his coaches on the sidelines. Delay-of-game penalties or unnecessary timeouts could be the costly result in the small hours of Tuesday morning, as a baying crowd and playoff expectation repeatedly clamber on Garoppolo's back.

Jimmy Garoppolo.jpg

Lucky No.3's dual-threat skills allow Wilson to simply scramble, or roll out to throw on the run and land it on a nickel. That's great news for an unheralded receiving crew that's finally rebounding to rude health (cue a resurgent Tyler Lockett) while the year's rookie revelation DK Metcalf will be desperate to atone for going catchless in Arizona (better than sleepless in Seattle) last time out. That demoralising defeat was made all the worse for picking up some new bodies on the treatment table, but it also moved the Vegas line from marginally favouring Seattle at home to making them solid three-point underdogs.

Whether he's in mascot or Beast Mode, Lynch's return will inspire Seattle

For me, that surely rates as an over-correction by the market. Sure, Seattle lost leading running man Chris Carson (to a season-ending hip fracture) and another promising RB in CJ Prosise. However, balance might've quickly been restored by the clever signing of relief RB Robert Turbin, who already has form and familiarity with the Seattle organisation, alongside a man who was once this franchise's offensive standard-bearer, Marshawn Lynch.

Last Monday, Lynch answered the call from heroism, or reversed the charges to opportunism (depending on how cynical you are - but hey, it's Christmas!). And his one-year contract certainly provides a shot in the arm for Seattle morale, whatever the likelihood that he comes back pounding at full Beast Mode. Lynch has been out of a competitive jersey since a spell in Oakland at the end of 2018, so we'll see how long it takes him to get the requisite reps in. But the Beast's mere presence will unite the locker room and inspire the likes of Turbin in this divisional dogfight.

True, the O-line protecting Messrs Wilson and Lynch is not what is was, but it's not as if San Fran don't have injury concerns of their own. Indeed, the Niners are likely to be without pass rusher Dee Ford (hamstring) and right guard Mike Person (neck), whereas their three-wheeled troika of Matt Breida (who didn't even touch the ball against the LA Rams), Tevin Coleman and Raheem Mostert looked more Reliant Robin than Ferrari when these two teams last met.

Therefore, ignore the alarming Seattle headlines and take a contrarian view to close out the regular season. Beaten down and banged-up is just the way that head coach Pete Carroll likes it. After all, low expectations are the key to pleasant surprises in life. And another belated Christmas present may be coming the Seahawks' way this festive season.

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