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Thursday, January 16, 2014
Seahawks or 49ers: Who has it better?

By Marty Callinan


Jonathan Ferrey/Getty ImagesThe Seahawks and 49ers will battle for the third time this season on Sunday.
Who’s got it better than the last two teams left in the NFC?

The San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks are built around talented, young quarterbacks who are not even the highest paid signal-callers on their respective teams. The extra cap space has left room to build balanced rosters full of veterans on both sides of the ball.

Over the next two days, ESPN Stats & Info will break down the offensive and defensive position groups to determine which team truly has it better on Sunday.

Let’s start with the offensive skill positions.

Quarterback
Colin Kaepernick and Russell Wilson have gone in opposite directions since the start of their Week 14 matchup in San Francisco. The 49ers have not lost and Kaepernick has been very efficient. Wilson and the Seahawks are 3-2 while averaging just 158 passing yards per game.

Kaepernick and the 49ers are simply the hotter team right now.

But hot teams and quarterbacks have a tendency of cooling off in Seattle. Four quarterbacks, including Kaepernick, posted games with a Total QBR of under 15. Drew Brees couldn’t crack 40 in either of his two starts.

Of Kaepernick’s four worst games as a starter in term of Total QBR, two were in Seattle. The fifth-worst was against the Seahawks in San Francisco.

Seattle has been able to contain Kaepernick with its four-man pass rush. He's completed only 49 percent of his throws, with two touchdowns and five interceptions when facing that rush, one that has also limited his scrambling success (he's gotten first downs on only 22 percent of scrambles against four-man rushes, on 65 percent of scrambles when an opponent sends five men or more).

The biggest issue for Kaepernick in Seattle has been his performance on third down. In his two starts at CenturyLink Field, Kaepernick completed 5 of 16 passes for 35 yards and three interceptions on third down. The Seahawks defense added two sacks and their fans helped add two delay of game penalties.

Pick: Wilson has it better Sunday. He’s 16-1 at home (including playoffs) with 33 total touchdowns. Kaepernick has not been able to figure out the 12th Man yet.

Running Backs
Frank Gore and Marshawn Lynch have been two of the most productive running backs over the last decade, with both ranking in the top-10 in rushing yards and rushing touchdowns over that span.

As the chart shows, Gore and Lynch are in great company when it comes to rushing production in the playoffs.

Pick: Lynch has it better. He has three 100-yard games against the 49ers over the last three seasons. All other individual rushers outside of Seattle have combined for two 100-yard games against the 49ers in 42 games.

Receivers
The Seahawks finished the regular season sixth in the NFL in expected points added (EPA) on passing plays. Passing EPA takes into account everything an offense does to affect the score via pass plays.

The success of the Seahawks pass-catchers is even more impressive considering the injuries and poor performance from the top earners. The Seattle receivers who cost the most against the cap in 2013 were Zach Miller ($11M, 33 receptions), Sidney Rice ($9.7M, 15 receptions, placed on IR in October) and Percy Harvin ($4.9M, one reception, PUP list).

Kaepernick has a Total QBR of 82 when Anquan Boldin, Michael Crabtree and Vernon Davis are all on the field. Davis’ seven career receiving touchdowns in the postseason are second in 49ers history behind only Jerry Rice.

Pick: 49ers have the better receivers Sunday. Wilson and the Seahawks made the most of what they had but the 49ers simply have too many strong options.