Indirectly, Thanksgiving turned out to be thankful to the Seattle Seahawks playoff hopes.
The Detroit Lions lost a home game to the Minnesota Vikings and the Dallas Cowboys dropped their third consecutive game with a loss to the Los Angeles Chargers. Those losses jumped the Seahawks from an eighth seed in the NFC playoffs to No. 6, enhancing their chances at least of getting a Wild Card bid.
No doubt, the home losses to Washington and Atlanta lowered Super Bowl expectations for the Seahawks, but winning the NFC West is still a strong possibility; and getting in as a Wild Card is very real. The only downside is the chances of getting a top-two seed and a bye week don’t look good.
This sets up an interesting visit to the San Francisco 49ers in what might be a rainy Sunday afternoon, similar to the Week 2 meeting in Seattle. Here are things to look at Sunday.
Weather conditions: Early in the week, there was a chance of a light shower. Now, the weather services say there could be a 90 percent chance of rain. Some indication it could be a quarter inch of rain. Those conditions would limit the 49ers offense more than the Seahawks. The Seahawks limited veteran Brian Hoyer to 99 yards of passing and 55.6 percent completions in their 12-9 victory in Seattle during Week 2. Instead of rushing Jimmy Garoppolo into a complicated Kyle Shanahan offense, the 49ers elected to stay with rookie C.J. Beathard.
Beathard had a decent game against the New York Giants before the bye week bought him more time to play and Garoppolo more time to pick up the offense. (Remember, it took Matt Ryan a year to feel fully comfortable in Shanahan’s offense when they were together with the Atlanta Falcons.) In four starts, Beathard has completed only 54.3 percent of his passes and is getting only 6.6 yards per attempt. The rain might make it tougher for him to complete passes. Remember how Russell Wilson struggled at time early in the first 49ers game? Wilson has big hands and should have a better chance to adapt.
Time for Maxell and Lane. Shaquill Griffin won’t play because of a concussion, which gives cornerbacks Byron Maxwell and Jeremy Lane more time to work together.
At the beginning of the month, Lane was off to Houston in a trade and Maxwell was looking for work after the Miami Dolphins cut him. The game against the 49ers Sunday offers a good matchup for both to get comfortable together. The 49ers only go three-receivers 33.4 plays a game — that would put the Seahawks into two cornerback sets.
With Pierre Garcon on injured reserve, the 49ers are young at receiver and don’t have a lot of experience. Rookie Trent Taylor has only 24 catches for 204 yards and he’s the team leader. Marquise Goodwin is their deep threat but he has only 23 catches (the positive is that he has a 21.7 yard per catch average.) Overall, though, the 49ers have only eight touchdown passes this year. Lane and Maxwell can work on their coverage and communications in this game.
Extra attention to stopping Carlos Hyde. For whatever reason, Hyde has been able to run on the Seahawks more than any other running back in the league. He had 124 yards on 15 carries in Week 2, and had 103 yards on 21 carries in Week 3 last year. The Seahawks run defense was the best in football last year and fumed about the 100-yard game by Hyde. This year, the Seahawks are giving up 98.1 yards a game and 3.9 yards per carry — so, stopping the run is going to be key.
Decisions along the offensive line. Right guard Oday Aboushi is out with a dislocated shoulder, and head coach Pete Carroll has to decide whether Luke Joeckel can return to the starting lineup at left guard. If Joeckel — who is close to returning after missing a month with a knee injury — can play left guard, Carroll has to decide if he wants Ethan Pocic or Mark Glowinski at right guard. Joeckel has been better in run blocking than pass blocking. He would get a chance to play next to left tackle Duane Brown, who is playing despite a bad ankle (and has done well in his first two starts for Seattle).
The Seahawks showed a pulse in the running game last week with J.D. McKissic and Mike Davis, in part thanks to better run blocking. But Davis is now doubtful for Sunday with a groin injury. That leaves McKissic, Thomas Rawls and Eddie Lacy at halfback.
Big game needed from the defensive line. As a team, the Seahawks are banged up. The secondary is now down veterans Richard Sherman and Kam Chancellor, and Griffin is out this week. Linebackers Michael Wilhoite (calf) and Bobby Wagner (hamstring) and defensive linemen Dion Jordan (neck) and Jarran Reed (hamstring) are questionable. Though they should be able to play, the defense is hampered.
The Seahawks cut defensive end Dwight Freeney this week in a move that surprised fans (perhaps his skills dropped after three impressive games since being signed), while Jordan has offered encouragement as a pass-rusher and Marcus Smith is back from his concussion. Naziar Jones has also looked good at defensive tackle. Overall, the Seahawks need a good pass rush to set up turnovers and to stop the run.