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Niners heavy favorites vs. Seahawks, but could weather be a game-changer?

Third time is the charm, right?

The Seattle Seahawks lost both regular-season contests and appeared overmatched against the San Francisco 49ers this season, managing just one touchdown on offense and losing by an average margin of 14 points.

But don’t tell that to Niners head coach Kyle Shanahan. Winners of 10 straight games entering this wild-card matchup between fierce NFC West rivals (4:30 p.m. ET Saturday on FOX), Shanahan is going with the well-worn cliché of taking it one game at a time.

That’s understandable, considering Shanahan’s 49ers are 4-8 against Pete Carroll’s Seahawks.

“Everything behind us doesn’t matter, and it’s a one-game season right now,” Shanahan told reporters this week. “So we’ve got to beat them this week, one time. And then that will allow us to move on to next week.” 

49ers deemed “juggernauts” in Nick’s NFL Tiers

49ers deemed "juggernauts" in Nick's NFL Tiers

Nick Wright crowns the Chiefs as Super Bowl favorites, labels the 49ers “juggernauts” and slides the Bills down entering the playoffs.

San Francisco boosts the top defense in the league statistically and has an NFL-best plus-13 turnover differential. 

Rookie third-string quarterback Brock Purdy has done a masterful job leading a talent-laden 49ers offense that features running back Christian McCaffrey, receiver Deebo Samuel, tight end George Kittle and receiver Brandon Aiyuk. And Purdy has one of the best offensive lines in the league protecting him, led by blindside tackle Trent Williams.

“They are such a good team, and they are so well-schemed that they really do tax the opponent,” Carroll said. “They do it in many ways. … I have so much respect for what Kyle does, their whole style of play and all that they have developed over the years. It’s going to be a good challenge.”

The Seahawks opened as 10-point underdogs heading into Saturday’s contest and will be hard-pressed to find a weakness to attack San Francisco.

But don’t tell that to Seattle. After the Seahawks traded franchise quarterback Russell Wilson, few expected them to win more than a handful of games this year, let alone reach the postseason.

However, led by a resurgent season from quarterback Geno Smith and a young, playmaking defense, the Seahawks have reached the postseason for the 10th time in Carroll’s 13-year tenure with the team.

Also, inclement weather could help level the playing field. California has been deluged with a series of winter storms that has created life-threatening flooding throughout the state over the past few weeks. Another storm is predicted to hit the Santa Clara area on Saturday, dumping up to an inch of rain.

While it may not generate the slip-n-slide playing surface that San Francisco experienced in a surprising, season-opening loss at Soldier Field to the Chicago Bears, expect wet conditions at Levi’s Stadium this weekend.

Matchup to watch: 49ers RB Christian McCaffrey vs. Seahawks defensive front

The Stanford product totaled 138 scrimmage yards and a touchdown in San Francisco’s 21-13 victory over the Seahawks on the road in Week 15. 

McCaffrey finished second in the NFL in scrimmage yards (1,880) and recorded 746 rushing yards in 11 games with San Francisco since the midseason trade with the Carolina Panthers.

McCaffrey talks trade, 49ers’ culture

McCaffrey talks trade, 49ers' culture

Niners running back Christian McCaffrey sits down with FOX Sports’ Greg Olsen and talks getting traded, his love of football and the culture within the 49ers.

Along with McCaffrey, the 49ers have running back Elijah Mitchell and playmaker Samuel back from injury. So they are prepared to grind out yards against a Seattle defense giving up 150 rushing yards a contest during the regular season, No. 30 in the NFL. 

Key stats: Teams that have entered the wild-card weekend with 13 wins, like the Niners this year, are 4-1 in the Super Bowl era. The lone loss was the New Orleans Saints in 2019 against the Minnesota Vikings. The 49ers are 5-2 in the wild-card round in the Super Bowl era and 3-0 since 2002. 

Prediction: It’s hard to see a path to victory for the Seahawks in this one, facing one of the most complete teams in the postseason riding a 10-game winning streak.

Seattle could keep things close by leaning on rookie Ken Walker III and the running game, and perhaps forcing Purdy into a few turnovers. Still, the 49ers likely will play from ahead by controlling the tempo with their playmakers on offense.

And defensively, it will be difficult for Seattle’s offense and Smith to consistently move the football against 49ers All-Pro linebacker Fred Warner and one of best defenses in the league. 

49ers 20, Seahawks 16

Eric D. Williams has reported on the NFL for more than a decade, covering the Los Angeles Rams for Sports Illustrated, the Los Angeles Chargers for ESPN and the Seattle Seahawks for the Tacoma News Tribune. Follow him on Twitter at @eric_d_williams.

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