With all due respect to the Arizona Cardinals, this is Round 1 of the NFC West Championship.
It certainly feels that way at least, especially in light of Arizona seemingly getting punished for actually daring to lead the division at the hands of the defending champs in Seattle. Carson Palmer maybe could have won that game on the road, he did last year despite throwing 4 picks, but asking your number two guy to go in there and get a win is rough. Drew Stanton is a decent quarterback, but "decent" doesn't really cut it in architecturally designed noise-reverberation domes of questionable officiating history.
So on a really short week, the Seahawks reward for administering that ass-whipping is a trip down the coast for another sizeable divisional match. The 49ers, for their part, ride the shakiest three-game-win-streak-in-the-history-of-ever into a home stand against their most hated rival and the most obvious validation-test they can possibly imagine. This is huge.
As a very interested fan, I cannot possibly begin to predict how this will go from a statistical standpoint. Beyond that I'm too emotionally involved. I can however, honestly imagine three of four possible scenarios playing out no matter how the X's and O's do.
All would affect me deeply. So let's go there.
Scenario 1: The "This Hurts, But There's Still Hope" Scenario
Tough, close, physical, and devastating. The Niners lose at home by being unable to establish a run-game, being inconsistent and error-prone in the passing game, and letting up a few too many big plays to Russell Wilson and getting gashed late by Marshawn Lynch when they need to force a punt. Kaepernick plays decently, but fails to connect on the one big play they need, further muddying the waters on what this kid's actually made of.
With this loss, I know it's really looking bad now, but at 7-5 and the suck-ass NFC South sending some hot garbage to the playoffs, I just want to believe there will still be a way. "The Niners will win out the rest of their games", "the Lions and Eagles will go in the tank", "Goodell will intervene and not allow a 6-10 team to make the playoffs, SOMETHING WILL HAPPEN".
Scenario 2: The " Oh, There Was a Reason it was So Hard to Beat Those Sucky Teams" Scenario
The Seahawks expose the 49ers for what they are; a great defensive team that's been dealt some key and nagging injuries, and an offense that cannot find any rhythm whatsoever against very average to below-average defenses. The missing pieces in the middle of the 49ers' defensive line and in the secondary work right into the strengths of the Seattle offense and San Francisco's inability to run the ball forces Kaepernick to throw more. Seattle gets more aggressive in blitzing a shaky San Francisco pocket and Kaepernick is forced into predictable mistakes.
It gets out of hand early in the 2nd half and Deion Sanders personally flies an airplane dragging a giant banner of Jim Harbaugh giving Jed York the finger at last year's Christmas party.
It's all coming apart now.
Still at 7-5, but with harder games ahead it's hard to envision anything good happening. My articles get more bizarre and rambling (like this one) and I start trying to create theories as to why Harbaugh will not only remain as coach, but end up owning the team somehow and contact me to help him run the PR department and pitch in my two cents on personnel decisions. A lot of drinking occurs.
Scenario 3: The "Close and Agonizing Necessary Home Win" Scenario – AKA My Hopeful Prediciton
Seattle's offensive struggles are legitimate and their lack of any real pass-catching threats allows Vic Fangio to push Darrell Bevel into a strategical corner.
Seattle has issues of their own on the offensive line, something Aldon Smith takes full advantage of. Yet, Lynch is still powerful enough and motivated enough to overcome the lack of talent they have up front. The 49ers give up some yards as they did in recent weeks but are able to nullify some pretty average wide-receivers and tight-ends, Fangio makes the Seahawks one-dimensional in the redzone and keeps them largely out of the endzone.
The 49ers use their "X Factor", get their 3 Pro-Bowl Wideouts on the field, their Pro-Bowl Tight End, Pro-Bowl Running Back, and take advantage of anyone not named Richard Sherman, Byron Maxwell, Earl Thomas, or Cam Chancellor. Kaepernick makes the throws he has to and the Pro-Bowlers catch the throws when they have to. More than anything, they don't make the big mistakes, they muster 3 scores, and that's enough to win in this kind of slug fest.
At 8-4 and a hugely emotional win in the books, I'm all-in on the "this is the year" narrative playing out going forward. QUEST FOR SIIIIIIIIIIIIX!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
I celebrate with a brandy/tryptophan megadose of Thanksgiving Awesome and hibernate accordingly.
Scenario 4: The "No Way in Hell Do I See This Happening" Scenario
The 49ers run wild on the Seahawks like they've ran wild on the 49ers up in Seattle.
29-3, 42-13, I just cannot see a way this could go down. Maybe the Seattle offense will totally suck and Aldon Smith will wreak havoc with his fresh and un-incarcerated legs. I'd love to see it, but I really have a hard time envisioning this being the game I can finally relax by quarter number three and let the buzz of that big-win feeling (amongst other things) set in. The Seahawks are still pretty damn good, I'm afraid. I'm more convinced of that than I am the 49ers being on their level, as much as I hate saying it.
I hope I'm totally wrong on this, but I just get the feeling that if they are going to win this weekend, which is obviously so crucial to my and all of our lives, it's going to be 3 hours plus of absolute Pete Carroll-Hating hell.