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3 Seahawks Questions: Will the run defense stay solid against 49ers?

The Seahawks have had one of the best run defenses in the NFL in 2020. (Getty)

The Seahawks (11-4) will close out the regular season with a game against the San Francisco 49ers (6-9) at the 49ers’ temporary home in Glendale, Arizona, because it’s 2020 and of course this is happening.

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The Seahawks have little excuse not to win this one. I know it’s any given Sunday in the NFL and the 49ers are coming off a great win over the Cardinals, but their injuries continue to stack up. This week they’ll be without leading receiver Brandon Aiyuk and cornerback Richard Sherman. Even kicker Robbie Gould and long snapper Taybor Pepper will be out after both were added to the reserve/COVID-19 list.

That said, the 49ers can still bring a challenge – they didn’t play like a six-win team last week – and the Seahawks have everything to play for (you’ll find out why in the third question).

Here are the biggest questions for Seattle in Week 17:

Can the Hawks’ run defense remain solid?

There’s no reason to think it can’t. The run defense has been the most consistent strength of this defense and still ranks in the top 10. But they’ll run into another test thanks to Kyle Shanahan’s offensive savvy and a key name who was absent the last time these two teams met. That name? Jeff Wilson Jr.

Wilson, who joined the 49ers as an undrafted rookie free agent two years ago, won’t draw the same attention as other halfbacks, but he’s had a few phenomenal performances this year. He earned a Player of the Week nomination after rushing for 183 yards against Arizona in Week 16. He’s only got one other 100-yard game this year, so he’s not their primary weapon, but taking him out of the game makes it a harder day for Shanahan and backup quarterback C.J. Beathard.

Can the Seahawks get to 30 points again?

This is admittedly a Veruca Salt moment. The Seahawks have clinched a playoff spot and the division in back-to-back wins against two of the league’s best defenses.

Like any other team, they don’t have to prove anything – but, let’s be honest, touchdowns are fun, and it would be a nice cap to the season for the offense. That said, the 49ers defense is missing a lot of talent due to injuries, but still rank fifth overall in yards surrendered (a job that’s made defensive coordinator Robert Saleh a favorite for a head coach opening this offseason).

Can Seattle sneak into the No. 1 spot in the NFC?

There’s going to be some scoreboard watching during the Hawks’ game this Sunday, and for good reason.

The Seahawks have a playoff spot and the division title secured, but the top seed in the NFC is still up for grabs. Keep in mind that “up for grabs” is being used loosely here; Football Outsiders gives the 12-3 Green Bay Packers a 74.4% chance to finish as the No. 1 seed, while Seattle’s odds of securing that spot are hovering around 7%.

It’ll be tough, but not impossible. Here’s what Seattle needs to clinch the No. 1 seed and be the only team in the conference with a first-round bye week (all three things here are needed):

• A Seahawks win, and

• A Packers loss, and

• A Saints loss OR tie

There’s quite a bit there that is out of their control.

The Packers are in the driver’s seat; win and they clinch the spot, regardless of what happens around the rest of the NFC. Aaron Rodgers’ 44 touchdowns lead the rest of the NFL and the offense’s 31.6 points per game are also tops, so it’s hard to see them stumbling to close out the season. Here’s your glimmer of hope, though: the Packers will be playing the Chicago Bears, who are just one win away from clinching a playoff spot and are coming off three straight wins while scoring 30 points or more.

Things get a little more complicated with the second game because Saints and Seahawks fans will share rooting interests for most of the day.

The Saints, who are playing the Carolina Panthers, will also be rooting for the Packers to lose and for the Seahawks to win. In this scenario, all teams would finish 12-4, which would force a conference record tiebreaker that would favor New Orleans (rather than the head-to-head tiebreaker that would favor Green Bay). Of course, the Saints also need to win for this to happen, which is where that beautiful Saints-Seahawks friendship ends (Sorry, New Orleans!).

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