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Seahawks have to go through 49ers to win NFC West, but SF has the edge

Russell Wilson has led the Seahawks to a 5-1 record, but the 5-0 49ers look even better. (AP)

You can’t really compare one team’s victory to another. Just because the 49ers crushed the Browns 31-3 doesn’t mean they’re that much better than the Seahawks, who had to come from behind to beat the Browns 32-28 on Sunday.

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But you can point to other things that tell you there’s a new sheriff in the NFC West – it’s San Francisco, and the Seahawks are still the division’s deputy. Seattle finished second to the Rams last year, but after losing three in a row, Sean McVay’s team is now only a half-game out of last place in the NFC West.

Before San Francisco defeated the Rams 20-7 Sunday in Los Angeles to remain unbeaten at 5-0, I was skeptical about the 49ers, thinking they hadn’t proven anything yet. I figured the Rams would win and at least stay in position to defend their NFC West title.

But now I look at the 49ers as maybe even a better candidate than the Seahawks to make it to the Super Bowl. Russell Wilson is significantly better than Jimmy Garoppolo, but that’s Seattle’s only clear-cut advantage over the Niners. And I don’t think that advantage compensates for the difference in the two defenses.

Seattle’s defense is average at best and, more accurately, below average. Everyone talks about the lack of a pass rush for good reason – Seattle has only 10 sacks, just five in the past five games. Sunday’s game was the Seahawks’ third game this year where they failed to record a sack. This maybe would have made sense if they didn’t have Jadeveon Clowney and Ziggy Ansah, but they do have them, and they’re failing to meet expectations. Clowney got credit for his only sack of the year when Andy Dalton of the Bengals was running out of bounds anyway, and Ansah got his only sack when he buried Arizona’s Kyler Murray on the last play of the game in garbage time.

The Seahawks also allow 360 yards a game and 24.3 points a game. The 49ers have drastically contrasting numbers – 237 yards and 12.8 points a game.

And it’s not like the 49ers are slugs on offense with Garoppolo – they average 50 more rushing yards per game than the Seahawks, 180 to 130.

We’ve seen how that formula works here with a top-notch running game and defense paving the way for the Seahawks to two Super Bowls. The 49ers appear to be on that same track.

If you’re a 12, you’re understandably excited about the Seahawks’ 5-1 start. The last time that happened, in 2013, they went to the Super Bowl and won the Lombardi Trophy. But as great as Wilson is, he will be challenged to make up for a so-so Seattle defense in the playoffs, especially if the Seahawks don’t win the division and have to play as many as three postseason games on the road.

That defense could improve with defensive tackle Jarrad Reed’s return this week from a six-game suspension. Reed recorded 10.5 sacks last year and will further bolster a defensive line that – in spite of a sporadic pass rush – was good against the run in the first three games. But in the last three games, they’ve allowed 118 rushing yards a game, and overall, Seattle’s opponents have averaged 4.7 rushing yards a game, just two-tenths of a tick better than last year’s mark of 4.9.

The secondary came up with two interceptions Sunday in Cleveland, including Tre Flowers’ first career pick. But that secondary is more vulnerable than most in the NFL. You get the feeling that even Pete Carroll, as optimistic as he is, isn’t completely comfortable with Tedric Thompson at free safety, rotating Lano Hill and Marquise Blair into the Cleveland game. Maybe that had more to do with dime packages than any dissatisfaction with Thompson, who had an interception Sunday off of a Shaquill Griffin deflection in the end zone.

Yet we all know without even seeing the stats that the secondary is the weakest unit on the team. The Seahawks are 23rd in pass defense, allowing 267 yards a game. The 49ers are No. 1, allowing 150 passing yards a game.

Here’s another comparison – against the 49ers Sunday, Rams QB Jared Goff was 13 for 24 for 78 yards. Against Seattle two weeks ago, Goff was 29 of 49 for 395 yards. One more – against the Seahawks, Dalton passed for a career-high 418 yards. In his last four games, his best passing performance was 262 yards against the Cardinals. Keep in mind, the Bengals are 0-6, and Dalton, though a reasonably good QB, has never been considered elite.

A lot can change in the next 10 games, but right now it looks as if the 49ers are the class of the division, and I’m guessing the gap will widen as the season goes on because of the difference with their defense.

Follow 710 ESPN Seattle’s Jim Moore on Twitter.

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