As we look ahead to the first game of the week, the question to ask is the same every week – what’s the outlook for Thursday? This week it’s a clash of 4-2 AFC West leaders as the Seattle Seahawks will leaving their comfortable home stadium to travel to historical windy Candlestick Park to face the San Francisco 49ers. Here’s the tale of the tape:
Seattle Seahawks: 4-2
Injuries: The only player the Seahawks will certainly be missing in this game is utility guard John Moffitt who hasn’t practiced all week due to his knee injury. However, it is increasingly likely that cornerback Walter Thurmond will not be playing either as, while he is practising, he has yet to be added officially to the roster coming off the PUP list due to a leg injury. Also, depth cornerback Byron Maxwell is likely to miss the game also due to a hamstring strain.
The good news for Seattle is that they should have star safety Kam Chancellor available for this game despite the elbow injury he sustained in last week’s win over the Patriots. According to reports, the injury is the type that wouldn’t be an issue for a Sunday start but the earlier Thursday game was the main reason Chancellor was in question. Chancellor is listed as probable, as is defensive tackle Clinton McDonald who missed last week’s game with a groin injury but is expected to return.
Three Keys To Victory: First and foremost, the vaunted Seahawks defense has to come through. This unit has been thrown together with a bunch of spare parts but to this point it has worked as the Seahawks currently have the #1 defense in the league. They’ll find themselves heavily challenged today not because the 49ers are a big offense but rather because of the conservative nature of the San Fran scheme. Seattle is suited to stopping big plays and defending against teams that rely on large offensive numbers but the West Coast Offense that the 49ers employ is more geared toward gradual progress and making just what is necessary to move the chains – the very essence of the old Bill Walsh scheme.
Second of all, Marshawn Lynch needs to find a way to break through the 49ers defensive line early. While rookie QB Russell Wilson has had some memorable late plays so far this season that have achieved late victories for the Seahawks, this sort of production is unsustainable. In order for Wilson to have a legitimate shot to lead the team to a win, it is Lynch who must step up and provide a solid base to help Seattle march down the field while taking enough time on the clock to keep their defense well rested.
Finally, Russell Okung needs to have a really good game at left tackle as he’ll be dealing with the dynamic Aldon Smith all day. Okung has struggled heavily since being taken in the 2010 NFL Draft with the 6th overall pick. In particular, his high penalty count this season is a worry for Seattle and we may see it climb higher if he gets a holding call or two as he tries to stop Smith. If Okung plays to his potential, Seattle should get some offense going.
Fantasy: Marshawn Lynch is one of those players who people either overrate or underrate in fantasy. The reality is that his fantasy production will pop every once in a while but most weeks he will get the requisite 6-10 points to make him a reliable starter. This matchup is a worry due to the 49ers stout run D but I think he could get 40-50 yards and a TD at least. Apart from Lynch, the only other starter on any fantasy team is the Seahawks D who seem to generate turnovers every week and against the less than impressive 49ers offense should keep the score low enough to make them a very good fantasy option.
San Francisco 49ers 4-2
Injuries: The biggest concern for the 49ers is left tackle Joe Staley who sustained a concussion in last week’s game. He has been passing his tests all week but the fact that the game is on a Thursday means he may not receive clearance in time. There’s a good chance he won’t play due to the compressed timeframe. If he is out, expect Alex Boone to shift over from right guard with Leonard Davis drawing the start at guard. Aside from Staley, the only other major concern is wide receiver Mario Manningham who was a late addition to the injury report with a shoulder issue. Reports indicate he will play though.
Of the others on the injury report, Brandon Jacobs hasn’t started all year and the fact that he’s questionable may see him left out for yet another week, quarterback Alex Smith is still having troubles with his injured finger from two weeks ago but will start once again, punter Andy Lee is continuing to have problems with his hand but will play through it, special teams inside linebacker Tavares Gooden has had a minor setback in training but should play and finally kicker David Akers is expected to play despite feeling a little sick this week.
Three Keys To Victory: Frank Gore. This guys is the roughest, meanest, most old school running back in the NFL as when he takes the field he always plays hard and aggressive to get HIS yards. He may not be getting as many carries as he once did but he is still a formidable weapon and when he is on he will dominate a defense. If Gore can get going early against the Seahawks D, this game could be over early.
As much as Frank Gore can break a defense apart on the ground, the combination of Michael Crabtree and Vernon Davis can do the same through the air. San Francisco doesn’t have much of an aerial attack but these two must be precise in their route running today in order to give the 49ers the chance they need to compete. If Gore can’t penetrate the Seahawks defensive line, Davis and Crabtree must step up to pick up the slack or the 49ers will grind to a halt.
Finally, the 49ers pass rush absolutely has to get pressure on rookie Russell Wilson. There has been some stellar performances from Wilson to date but we have seen that when the opposing defense gets consistent pressure on him, he folds. If the likes of Aldon Smith, Ahmad Brooks and Justin Smith can get into the backfield consistently, San Francisco should increase their chances of a dominant victory.
Fantasy: Frank Gore doesn’t get as many touches but he still does plenty with them. While he’s not as easy a start this week as he is usually, he’s a very solid RB2 starter in standard leagues. Alex Smith on the other hand is a very risky proposition this week. There are plenty of better matchups at QB to take advantage of this week – try and bench Alex if you possibly can. Michael Crabtree’s ranking this week suffers as a result of the question marks surrounding Smith – although to be fair Crabtree is slightly questionable most weeks. I’d call Crabtree an ok WR2 in PPR but in standard leagues he is a sketchy FLEX starter at best.
Then we have Vernon Davis who has had his good moments this season but could struggle here. I would start him in pretty much all leagues but I’d be wary of relying on him for big points although I think he’ll get you a TD. The 49ers D is a very good play this week – I see sacks and interceptions in the future for Russell Wilson and a low score. Finally, Randy Moss is a sneaky good play today. I think he winds up with 3 for 28 and a TD in my bold prediction of the week.
Betting: I see that most places have the 49ers giving 7.5 at home and for me this is very close. The Seahawks have a bad habit of getting back door covers when they’re an underdog and my instincts tell me they may do it again late. However, personally I do like San Fran in this game and will give away the points in my pick.
Final Score: This one will probably be a very defensive affair with lots of field goals and few big plays. I’ll take the San Francisco 49ers to beat the Seattle Seahawks 26-13 with David Akers going 4 for 5.
So what will be the outlook for Thursday? Your guess as good as mine!!!