Countdown to a much-anticipated kickoff

Kam Chancellor

Greetings from a so-far dry CenturyLink Field, where the unbeaten-at-home Seahawks will host the 49ers tonight in a highly anticipated rematch of their Week 7 game in San Francisco – also a primetime game, but on a Thursday night in October.

That matchup still is being referred to as the most-physical game in the NFL this season, as the 49ers took a 13-6 decision – and both teams took their lumps.

“You have to be very, very physical,” is the way Cris Carter put it on the ESPN pregame show this morning. “Look at (Jim) Harbaugh, Pete Carroll, what they have done and what has transitioned from college to the National Football League is the physicality of both teams.”

Flash forward to Week 16 and the offenses from each team have taken it to another level, while also maintaining their defensive prowess and swagger, as well as superiority on special teams. The Seahawks have put up 58 and 50 points the past two weeks, becoming the first NFL team since 1950 to score 50-plus in back-to-back games; while the 49ers hung 41 points on the Patriots last Sunday night, in New England.

So perhaps “much-anticipated” doesn’t really do justice to Round 2 of this rivalry in 2012.

Tonight’s game has a 2005 feel to it. Back then, the Seahawks were trying to get over the hump in their rivalry with the Rams – the 2003 NFC West champions and a team that had beaten the Seahawks three consecutive times. But the Seahawks went into St. Louis and beat the Rams in Week 5 and never looked back in winning a club-record 11 consecutive games to post a franchise-best 13-3 record. Sure, the Seahawks won the division in 2004, but the title came despite losing to the Rams three times – twice during the regular season and again in a wild-card playoff game at then-Qwest Field.

Flash forward to Week 16 of 2012. The 49ers are the defending division champions, and can make it two in a row with a win tonight. The 49ers have beaten the Seahawks the last four times the teams have met, including that Week 7 game this season.

So, just like with the Rams in 2005, the Seahawks need to find a way to beat the 49ers to get on with their much-improved present and even-brighter future. The Seahawks can clinch a playoff spot – and grab win No. 10 – with a victory tonight.

If that doesn’t happen, it sets up a regular-season finale next week that will be similar to what happened in 2010 – Pete Carroll’s first season as coach. The Rams and Seahawks went into their regular-season finale with the winner capturing the division and advancing to the playoffs – even if it was with a 7-9 record. The Seahawks prevailed, and then knocked off the defending Super Bowl champion Saints in a wild-card playoff the next week.

This Seahawks team is better than that 2010 team, and striving to become as good as that 2005 team became.

All of which adds even more interest and intrigue to a matchup already dripping with both.

Tonight, in a stadium where the Seahawks are 6-0 this season and already have dispatched the Packers, Patriots, Vikings and Cowboys, a national TV audience and those fortunate enough to have tickets will see a matchup of the teams that have allowed the fewest points in the league – 218 for the 49ers, 219 for the Seahawks.

It’s also a matchup of the No. 2 (49ers) and No. 3 (Seahawks) defenses in the NFL in terms of average yards allowed.

And, the No. 2 (49ers) and No. 3 (Seahawks) rushing offenses in the league.

And, the No. 3 (Seahawks) and No. 5 (49ers) pass defenses in the NFL.

And, two of the Top 10 rushers in the league in the Seahawks’ Marshawn Lynch (No. 2) and long-time Seahawks nemesis Frank Gore (No. 8).

And, two of the hottest young quarterbacks in the NFL in Seahawks rookie Russell Wilson and 49ers second-year man Colin Kaepernick.

And, the NFC leaders in sacks – the 49ers’ Aldon Smith, who shares the NFL lead with 19.5; and the Seahawks’ Chris Clemons, who is tied for second in the conference with 11.5.

The Seahawks have gotten to 9-5 by being consistently consistent in their approach to each game, and especially their preparation for each game. But few players on the roster have played in an NFL game with the significance of this game.

There are multiple statements that can be made on multiple levels tonight, for each team.

It’s a situation where the oh-so-young Seahawks, with 12 starters who are in their first, second or third seasons, could get over-amped.

“You’re really in the case of you can try too hard. You can over-try and that takes you out of your game,” Carroll said after Friday’s practice. “We’ve been very consistent, and we’ve been growing and progressing. And I don’t want us to try and do things we’ve never done before. I just want us to do what we’ve been doing and play like we’ve been.”

Because it’s been that style of play – and approach – that has delivered the Seahawks to this primetime matchup against the 49ers so primed to make a statement.

Enjoy the game, with kickoff set for 5:20 p.m. on NBC (KING/5 in the greater Seattle area) and radio coverage on 710 AM ESPN Seattle and KIRO Radio 97.3.

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