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3 players to watch when Seahawks take on 49ers in Week 13

Second-year pro Shaquill Griffin has taken over Richard Sherman's old spot at LCB. (AP)

The Seahawks are in the driver’s seat in December. After their 30-27 win over the Carolina Panthers, Seattle holds a vital tiebreaker over another NFC wild card contender and will play four of their final five games at home.

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Still, at 6-5 in a crowded NFC race every win matters, which is the Seahawks will need to stay on their toes in Week 13 against the visiting San Francisco 49ers. Here are three players to watch Sunday:

WR Doug Baldwin

Come Sunday, most fans aren’t watching to see how Seattle’s pass rush will fare against the 49ers’ offensive line and quarterback Nick Mullens — though that’s going to be one of the more interesting and telling matchups. Instead, in news that should surprise no one, most will be keeping an eye on ex-Seahawk and current 49ers cornerback Richard Sherman.

And who could blame them? When Sherman covers wide receiver Doug Baldwin, it’ll become one of Week 13’s more interesting reunions. The two players excel on the field and have 10 years of history playing together both at Stanford and in Seattle.

Baldwin has been playing through a groin injury and injuries to both knees. While he has been Seattle’s top receiving target for five of the last seven years, that title will likely go to Tyler Lockett in 2018. But it would be a mistake to rule Baldwin out as a threat downfield, and the veteran wideout will know Sherman better than any offensive weapon on the field Sunday.

CB Shaquill Griffin

The reunion this Sunday with Richard Sherman also draws attention to the role he vacated. That role, the left cornerback spot, is now headlined by second-year defensive back Shaquill Griffin.

Griffin has two interceptions, five passes defended and 36 tackles this season. Earlier this week, Sherman talked about Griffin’s continued development after the former’s departure.

“He’s played more patiently and more deliberately,” Sherman told 710 ESPN Seattle’s John Clayton. “His play recognition, you know, the way you turn for the football and catch it (have improved). His tackling has always been a strength but I think it’s improved this year. His recognition and being able to come up quicker in the run game. I think those things have rubbed off really well and I’m happy to see the player he’s become.”

Seattle’s secondary should have an advantage over San Francisco. The 49ers rank 24th in total passing yards (2,423) and in passing yards per game (220) through 11 weeks. Two veteran receivers have already been ruled out for Sunday: Pierre Garçon (knee) and Marquise Goodwin (not injury related). Coincidentally, the two young receivers who will start in their place during the trip to Seattle both have ties to Washington state. Eastern Washington’s Kendrick Bourne and former Washington Huskies standout Dante Pettis will likely see their most extensive action of the season.

LBs Austin Calitro and Bobby Wagner

San Francisco’s biggest strength on offense comes with their run game and tight end.

Running back Matt Breida has 738 rushing yards and three touchdowns this year and is leading a San Francisco offense that ranks fifth in rushing yards per game (134.9). That performance has been bolstered by an offensive line that ranks 15th overall, according to Pro Football Focus, with first-round rookie tackle Mike McGlinchey reeling in the highest grade up front.

The 49ers most productive pass catcher is tight end George Kittle, who is second only to Giants running back Saquon Barkley in yards after contact (546) and has 823 yards and three touchdowns this year.

Seattle’s front seven — in particular linebackers Austin Calitro and Bobby Wagner — will have their hands full trying to limit Breida and Kittle. Wagner is PFF’s highest-graded linebacker and has yet to miss a single tackle on 91 attempts this year. But containing any opposing offense is a task that’s made harder without a veteran teammate like outside linebacker K.J. Wright, who will remain sidelined by a knee injury for at least another week.