Up next: San Francisco 49ers

When: Saturday, 1:15 p.m., CenturyLink Field

Record: 11-3 after Monday night’s lights-out 20-3 victory over the Steelers

Where they rank: No. 25 on offense (9th rushing, 29th passing); No. 5 on defense (1st rushing, 21st passing)

Series: Seahawks lead 13-12, but the 49ers won three of the past four – including the season opener in San Francisco 33-17

Star power: With apologies to the Pro Bowl duo of running back Frank Gore and tight end Vernon Davis, it’s the 49ers’ defense because of the way it continues to outshine opposing offenses. The 49ers rank No. 1 in scoring defense as well as rushing defense, and the unit is led by a galaxy of impressive players: linebacker NaVorro Bowman, who has a team-leading 121 tackles; linebacker Patrick Willis, the four-time Pro Bowler who is second in tackles (93) despite sitting out Monday night’s game; lineman Justin Smith, a two-time Pro Bowler who has 6½ sacks; rookie pass-rusher Aldon Smith, who has 13 sacks; Dashon Goldson, the former University of Washington safety who has six interceptions; and cornerback Carlos Rogers, who also has six interceptions. Put them altogether and the 49ers have a league-high 35 takeaways and are plus-25 in turnover ratio, which also leads the league.

Unsung hero: Larry Grant. With Willis out, Grant stepped in against the Steelers to get his hands on four Ben Roethlisberger’s passes and make five tackles, including one for a loss. That’s the secret to the 49ers’ defensive success: If one guy doesn’t get you, the next one will.

On the spot: Alex Smith. Yes, the 49ers’ rejuvenated QB has been the picture of efficiency for most of the season, completing 61 percent of his passes and throwing 16 touchdown passes compared to five interceptions. But he’s also been sacked 39 times. Saturday, Smith will have to deal with the noise factor at CenturyLink Field, while is receivers will have to contend with the Seahawks’ very-physical secondary which has 11 interceptions in the past four games; and his tackles will be facing Chris Clemons and Raheem Brock, who combined for four sacks in Sunday’s win over the Bears.

Burning question: What’s gotten into this team? They’re NFC West champions for the first time since 2002 and already have won 11 games, after a run of much less success that included records of 7-9, 2-14, 4-12, 7-9, 5-11, 7-9, 8-8 and 6-10 since the last time they won the division. The 49ers have had good players, but now they’re a good team. Credit first-year coach Jim Harbaugh, but also the players for buying what he has been selling.

Number to know: 18. That’s the number of touchdowns the 49ers have scored in 48 trips into the red zone, and two of those came against the Steelers. Their TD percentage of .375 inside the 20-yard line is the third lowest in the league. The flip side to that has been David Akers kicking 38 field goals while breaking Jerry Rice’s single-season club record for points scored (143, and counting).

Familiar faces: In addition to Goldson, offensive assistant coach Bobby Engram played for the Seahawks (2002-08) and was voted to the 35th Anniversary team; offensive line coach Mike Solari coached for the Seahawks (2008-09); secondary coach Ed Donatell coached at the University of Washington (1981-82); tight ends coach Reggie Davis played for the Huskies (1994-98); special assistant to the head coach Bill Nayes worked for the Seahawks (1999-2006), as did national scout Matt Malaspina (2000-04); and senior personnel advisor John Becker was the Seahawks offensive coordinator (1989-91).

The last word: “Everybody has to take us seriously, man. We’re not the old Niners anymore.” – defensive end Ray McDonald after Monday night’s victory that was as convincing as it was impressive


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