SANTA CLARA, Calif. — This is the same as the finale to last regular season for the Seattle Seahawks.
On the road against a division opponent that isn’t playing for anything.
Sunday’s game at the miserable San Francisco 49ers (2-13) is so different in every other way for the Seahawks (9-5-1). So this really is a new year.
Unlike last Jan. 3 at Arizona, Seattle doesn’t have its place set in the NFC playoffs. Last January the Seahawks knew they were a wild card and heading on the road the following week, in what turned out to be a Minnesota ice box.
These Seahawks need a sixth consecutive win over San Francisco, which won last week for the first time in 3½ months, at Los Angeles 22-21. And they need New Orleans (7-8) to upset the NFC South-champion Falcons in Atlanta in a game that kicks off at the same time (1:25 p.m.) as Seattle does here.
If that happens, the Seahawks will steal back the second seed in the NFC they lost by blowing their home game against eliminated Arizona on Christmas Eve. That would mean next weekend off during the wild-card round and a second-round game at home.
Barring a Saints upset of the NFL’s highest-scoring team, the Seahawks’ fate will also hinge on the New York Giants’ game at Washington, also a 1:25 PT kickoff, and on the NFC North division title game in Detroit between the Lions and Packers starting at 5:25.
An expected Atlanta win, a Washington victory and Seattle win would mean the third-seeded Seahawks would host six-seeded wild card Washington next weekend.
A Packers win over the Lions in that scenario would put the Packers as the four seed on the other side of the conference’s playoff bracket from Seattle. They couldn’t meet until the NFC title game. That can’t be bad for the Seahawks — considering they lost 38-10 at Green Bay on Dec. 11. It was the most lopsided loss for Seattle in six years.
A Giants win would eliminate Washington and put the loser of Detroit-Green Bay in the six spot. If Seattle is the three, which will happen if chalk occurs (Atlanta and the Seahawks win Sunday), the Lions-Packers loser would play in Seattle next week.
But if the Saints win? It’s all chill for Seattle until Jan. 14 or 15, and the Seahawks would improbably be one home playoff win from the conference title game.
Got all that?
Coach Pete Carroll claims not to.
Bay Area media members asked the Seahawks coach this past week on the customary midweek conference call if he was going to have someone updating him on the sidelines here Sunday or how the Saints-Falcons game was going.
“I don’t care about that. I really don’t,” Carroll said. “I’ll get in the locker room and there will be plenty of time to figure that out or somebody will throw it on the board. I don’t care.
“We have to go play football the way we want to play and take care of our business. It isn’t really about the other stuff. That just comes to you when the time is right.”
Seattle’s time will be a lot more right if it can get Thomas Rawls right. That, in turn, would go a long way to getting the inconsistent offense that has frustrated most of the Northwest right.
Rawls has missed most or all of 13 games, including both in the playoffs last season, in his two years with the Seahawks. His bruised shoulder that cost him the final two quarters of last weekend’s loss to Arizona did not keep him out of practice this week.
It was his third injury in 12½ months. His broken ankle that ended his standout rookie season kept him limited essentially into September. Early in the second game of this season, he cracked his fibula and missed the next two months.
Has he been frustrated by the injuries as the offense has sputtered through three games without scoring a touchdown, and 10 plays from inside the Arizona 10 without a TD to begin the Christmas Eve loss?
“Not at all,” Rawls said.
“I mean, I think the most frustrating injury probably was when I broke my ankle. It was broken. But these little nicks and injuries, I’ve been playing through stuff since I was little. I’ve got the right mentality and toughness to be in this offense. That’s what I’m going to continue to do.”
Now he gets a prime chance to get right. Among San Francisco’s many problems is the last-ranked defense and run defense in the NFL.
Seattle’s defense is still stinging from giving up 34 points at home to Arizona, including the winning field goal on the final play after the Cardinals passed their way from their own 25 to the Seahawks’ 25 in 57 seconds.
That’s no way to advance in the playoffs.
“We just have to do better job. We have to take pride when we’re in those positions,” Pro Bowl middle linebacker Bobby Wagner said. “The game on the line and we have to stop it. That’s on us, nobody else.”
The Seahawks smacked San Francisco in the previous meeting, a 37-18 win at CenturyLink Field Sept. 18. It was a 37-3 game with 12 minutes remaining. Wagner intercepted the 49ers’ Blaine Gabbert, who completed 14 of 25 throws for just 119 yards. That remains the fewest net passing yards allowed by Seattle this season.
This time Gabbert will be on the sideline watching Colin Kaepernick make his 11th consecutive start. He has completed a career-low 57 percent of his throws but has 15 touchdowns to just four interceptions.
This may be Kaepernick’s last game with the Niners. The former arch-enemy of the Seahawks signed a re-negotiated contract the day after he took the job back from Gabbert in October. It includes more guaranteed money and a clause that can make him a free agent this coming spring.
“For me once again, my focus this week is making sure I’m prepared for Seattle,” Kaepernick said this past week, “because we’re going to have our hands full there. My focus is solely on that.”
The Seahawks are also ticked the loss to Arizona last weekend almost assuredly ended their chance to lead the NFL in points allowed for the unheard-of fifth straight season. Last season Seattle became the first team since the 1950s Cleveland Browns to lead the league in scoring defense four consecutive years.
AFC-leading New England, which plays at Miami Sunday, is 33 points ahead of Seattle defensively entering the day.
“There’s still a chance,” Wagner said, smiling.
“It means a lot. We pride ourselves on not putting points on the board and not being scored on. That’s shows the consistency of doing that over the years. We still have one more game and hopefully something crazy happens.”
Like finally resembling the previous four Seahawks teams entering the last four playoffs, perhaps?
“We want to try to finish this thing off right,” Carroll said. “There’s a lot going on this weekend in the league and things can happen and all of that. We need to take care of our business and play a good football game.
“It’s really on us to play well. We want to do things the way we want to do them and look right, knowing next week is coming up — and whatever happens after that.”