Clayton: Seahawks’ division title about all that is sure as the NFC West is set for a strange finish

Jan 1, 2021, 2:23 PM

Seahawks DK Metcalf...

DK Metcalf and the Seahawks aim to go 2-0 vs. the 49ers and finish with 12 wins. (Getty)


A year ago in Week 17, the Seahawks were considered the underdogs to the San Francisco 49ers.

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The 49ers came to Seattle for the finale of what turned out to be a 13-win season. The Seahawks had just lost the previous Sunday to Arizona at home and were down three running backs because of injuries. Yet had they won that game, they could have won the NFC West.

It was close against San Francisco. Russell Wilson drove the offense into the red zone in the final seconds. Officials should have made a defensive pass interference call on a pass to tight end Jacob Hollister, which would have given the Seahawks a play from the 1-yard line. You figure Marshawn Lynch, who had just come out of retirement to help the Seahawks, would have scored and the Seahawks would have won their first division title since 2016.

What a difference a year makes.

Sunday was supposed to be a 49ers home game, but their home county won’t allow the team to practice or play at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif., so they’ve had to spent the past month in Glendale, Ariz. After going to the Super Bowl and losing to Kansas City last year, the 49ers are 6-9, eliminated from the playoffs and in a world of hurt.

Things started out horrible for San Francisco. Many key players on the offense assembled in Nashville, Tenn., during the offseason and the injuries started then, most notably wide receiver Deebo Samuels suffering a foot injury. But that was mild in comparison to what followed.

The 49ers have been destroyed by injuries and coronavirus cases this season. They’ve had to put players on the injured reserve list 33 times and have had 21 players on the COVID-19 list. Third-string quarterback C.J. Beathard will start Sunday against the Seahawks as they will finish the season without their top two QBs, Jimmy Garopppolo and Nick Mullens. Also among the many 49ers players who won’t finish the season are Samuel, fellow wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk, and cornerback Richard Sherman.

Kicker Robbie Gould signed a contract extension this week but he will miss the game because of COVID-19. The injury report came out Friday with the 49ers ruling seven players out and putting offensive tackle Trent Williams and defensive tackle Jordan Willis on IR. That makes enough players already ruled out for Sunday who aren’t on IR to fill out the inactive list. It’s a mess.

The Seahawks clinched the NFC West with last week’s win over the Rams and have very little pressure on them for this game. Even though a victory would get them to 12 wins, they would still need the New Orleans Saints and Green Bay Packers to lose to get the No. 1 seed to the playoffs. They most likely will be the No. 3 seed, which is great. They get a home game and there is a chance they could play Arizona, the Rams or the Chicago Bears in the first round.

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As for the Rams, last week’s loss to the Seahawks could have destroyed them.

Quarterback Jared Goff needed surgery on his right thumb. No one knows if he’ll be available for the playoffs next week if the Rams make it. Seattle safety Jamal Adams’ incredible rush to stop Rams running back Darrell Henderson at the 1-yard line was one of the better defensive plays of the season, but Henderson suffered a high ankle sprain. Starting running back Cam Akers may miss the Rams’ game against the Cardinals because of his own high ankle sprain. Defensive lineman Michael Brockers and wide receiver Cooper Kupp are expected to miss Sunday’s game because of COVID-19.

It will be up to undrafted 25-year-old Rams QB John Wolford to try to beat Kyler Murray and the Cardinals in his NFL debut.

The NFC West has been considered the league’s best division but it is sure having a strange finish. The loser of the Cardinals-Rams game could miss the playoffs if the Bears beat the Packers. Regardless, the Seahawks are in and have the division championship, their first since 2016.

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