As early season games go, this is about as big as they come. NFC West rivals, some would say bitter rivals, in a Week 2 showdown to see which team has the upper hand in the division and, if the preseason prognosticators are correct, in the race to the Super Bowl.
So let’s get right to it:
Quarterbacks Colin Kaepernick and Russell Wilson are rising stars in the NFL, dynamic team leaders who are masters in the read-option and dangerous with both their legs and their arm. So who has the upper hand?
Terry Blount: I'll say Wilson in this one, strictly because the home-field advantage is so big in CenturyLink and it's the home opener. These two guys are so similar in how they play the game, but much different in terms of personality. Wilson is more of a buttoned-up-businessman type of guy, while Kaepernick is more colorful and a little more carefree in his approach; at least that is how it looks. But I know Wilson has the utmost respect for Kaepernick and his abilities as a quarterback.
Bill Williamson: Terry, this reminds me of the argument I had to make last year when the question was who was having a better comeback season, Denver's Peyton Manning or Minnesota’s Adrian Peterson. There was no wrong answer. I have the same issue here. Kaepernick and Wilson are two of the reasons why the game going to be so great in the next decade. It’s difficult to disparage or poke holes in the game of either one. However, for the sake of this exercise, I will back Kaepernick. I’m sure the Packers would agree. Any time a guy beats a team with 181 yards on the ground and then comes back with 412 yards in the air, that is the work of a special player. I think Kaepernick may be just a tad more dangerous the Wilson. I’d lean on Kaepernick’s side, but again, I’d take Wilson on my side most Sundays. Kaepernick was nearly flawless against Green Bay. It was stunning.
What do you think will be the key defensively as the Seahawks try to contain Kaepernick?
Blount: Last week, Seattle middle linebacker Bobby Wagner said they wanted to keep Cam Newton from running because they didn't think he could beat them throwing. He was right, but that plan won't work with Kaepernick. The Seahawks' line will have to get more pressure on Kaepernick than it did on Newton. Defensive end Cliff Avril would help if he could finally get on the field. So would defensive end Chris Clemons, although that seems unlikely. And Seattle needs the return of cornerback Brandon Browner, who missed the opener with a hamstring issue. Walter Thurmond played well in place of Browner, but Browner's size (6-foot-4, 221 pounds) is such an asset against a strong receiver like Anquan Boldin.
Williamson: After the Green Bay game, San Francisco safety Donte Whitner said he can’t wait to see the season develop because Kaepernick can beat defenses so many different ways. If the Seattle secondary keeps Kaepernick from going wild, perhaps he will beat them with his feet. That’s the thing about Kaepernick -- he will get you. He will make his impact. Keeping it under control on the ground and in the air is the key for Seattle.
Let's talk about the running backs -- Frank Gore and Marshawn Lynch. Might one of these guys determine the outcome of the game?
Williamson: I certainly can see both veterans playing a major role. Gore was pretty quiet against the Packers -- until he needed to be loud. Yes, he had just a paltry 44 yards on 21 carries, but Gore made a difference with some key, clock-eating runs. At 30 years old, that is Gore’s role in this multidimensional offense. He is not going to be the lead dog, but the 49ers rely on him when needed. His days of carrying this offense are over, but he can help. I expect him to come up with a few solid runs Sunday. As for Lynch, he is clearly an emotional spark plug for the Seahawks. He will come at the 49ers. But this is a defense that will be ready. San Francisco allowed 3.7 yards a carry last season, the third-fewest in the NFL. And the 49ers shut down a revamped Green Bay run game Sunday, allowing the Packers 63 yards on 19 carries -- a 3.3-per-carry average. Green Bay’s longest run was 7 yards. In the end, I think both Gore and Lynch may have their moments, but neither will take over the game.
Blount: Lynch had a terrible game in the opener, rushing for only 43 yards on 17 carries. That won't work if Seattle hopes to win Sunday. With all the talk of Wilson and Kaepernick, the Seahawks still are a power-running team. Pete Carroll made the running game a point of emphasis at practice this week. Gore has enjoyed some of his best games against Seattle, rushing for 1,238 in 14 games against the Seahawks. But I think Lynch will go into Beast Mode on Sunday to prove last week was an exception. And it’s worth noting that Lynch has four 100-yard rushing games in his last six meetings with the 49ers.
It will be interesting to see how emotions come into play in this game. The 49ers are coming off an emotionally charged win over the Packers, and we all know about the 49ers-Seahawks rivalry. Do you think it will carry over to the field?
Blount: I really don't think it matters for this one. Both teams have been pointing to this matchup since the end of last season. And let's tell it like it is: Regardless how much they try to downplay it, these teams really don't like each other. The issues between Carroll and Jim Harbaugh go back to their Pac-12 days. Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman has made it clear he has no love lost for Harbaugh, his coach at Stanford. So a little bad blood going in makes it even bigger.
Williamson: Teams can play emotionally for only so long before they wear down. Still, no team is going to wear down emotionally in Week 2. The 49ers are coming off an emotionally draining win over the Packers, but there is zero chance for a letdown. Harbaugh will see to that. He will get his team up for this game. There is serious disdain involved here. I expect plenty of pushing, shoving and yapping. In this case, it will only enhance the game, and I don’t think it will be a detriment to either team unless someone loses control.
49ers wide receiver Boldin and tight end Vernon Davis are coming off huge performances last week. Can the Seattle defensive backs -- whom many believe are the best in the league -- slow them down?
Williamson: That will be the goal for sure. The biggest question mark about the 49ers going into the season was at receiver with Michael Crabtree and Mario Manningham out. But Boldin and Davis answered that question. In their first game together, Boldin and Kaepernick looked like they had played together for five years. Nearly every yard of Boldin’s 208 yards came in the clutch. Kaepernick and Davis combined for just six catches total in the final six games of the regular season last year. But they connected well in the postseason, and they were terrific together Sunday. Seattle will likely slow down both Boldin and Davis some. Don’t expect for Boldin and Davis to dominate. The 49ers will have to find other options. The key for San Francisco is to get rotational receivers Kyle Williams, Marlon Moore and Quinton Patton involved, as well as Kendall Hunter out of the backfield. I think San Francisco is varied enough to do it, but Boldin and Davis will have to make some kind of impact as well.
Blount: No secondary, no matter how good it is, can stop Boldin and Davis entirely. Free safety Earl Thomas said what that they want to do, not just in this game but in every game, is lure a quarterback to throw to the middle of the field. Thomas often cheats up near the line, leaving only Kam Chancellor deep, to entice throws into the middle. The Seahawks see it as a trap. They believe they have enough talent to force turnovers and mistakes by any offense if they throw consistently over the middle, so Davis, especially, will get his chances. Seattle’s defensive backs have a knack for forcing turnovers, and I expect they will come up with one or two Sunday.