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Sunday Night Football Preview: Who Has the Edge in This Crucial NFC West Matchup?

For the 2019 regular-season finale on Sunday Night Football, the San Francisco 49ers travel to play the Seattle Seahawks in a game with massive playoff implications.

A 49ers win clinches the NFC West as well as a coveted first-round bye and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. A 49ers' tie would clinch the NFC West, as well, and coupled with a Green Bay Packers or New Orleans Saints loss or tie would also lock in a first-round bye. For the Seahawks, a win clinches the NFC West, while Seattle could lock up a first-round bye with a win and a Packers loss. A win paired with a Packers and Saints loss would give Seattle home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. The loser is left as a Wild Card team and forced to go on the road in round one of the playoffs, giving both teams ample reasons to fight for a win on Sunday night.

Per our oddsFire betting tool, 58% of the bets and 73% of the money is siding with the 49ers (-3.5), implying that some big bets have come in on San Francisco. The moneyline is a different story, as the 49ers -180 is turning off bettors, with 67% of both the bets and the money backing Seattle +156 to win outright in their home stadium. As for the total, 70% of the bets are taking the over on 47 points scored, but with only 56% of the money taking the over, there are some big bets backing the under.

With the public believing in the favored 49ers on the spread, yet jumping on the underdog Seahawks on the moneyline, it sounds like bettors are torn on this divisional matchup. Let's see if our projections can shine a light on some strong betting angles.

Passing Game Preview

Jimmy Garoppolo enters Week 17 at the controls of the NFL's sixth-ranked passing offense, producing 0.20 Adjusted Passing Net Expected Points (NEP) per drop back. With a 1.03 pass-to-run ratio, the 49ers are the second-most run-heavy team in the NFL, trailing only Lamar Jackson's Baltimore Ravens. So while the 49ers don't pass a ton, they are efficient when they do, mirroring the Seahawks in that regard.

Garoppolo has held up well in his four games against top-10 passing defenses like Seattle's, completing 70% of his passes in the split while generating a respectable 0.14 Passing NEP per drop back. He's averaged just 25 passing attempts and 215 yards passing in those four games, however, as the 49ers tend to lean on their running game and defense in tough matchups.

Tight end George Kittle is the clear star of the passing game, leading the team with 78 receptions and 100 targets, and recording an impressive 0.85 Reception NEP per target. A dominating blocker, as well, this offense runs through Kittle. Since returning from a mid-season injury, Kittle has averaged 85 receiving yards per game over his last five games while scoring three touchdowns over that span.

Emmanuel Sanders has racked up 0.75 Reception NEP per target while playing for the Denver Broncos and 49ers in 2019, and while he has disappeared at times on the stat sheet for the 49ers, he provides a veteran option in the passing game for Garoppolo. Rookie receiver Deebo Samuel offers a physical presence after the catch and has held his own, producing 0.68 Reception NEP per target as the third option in the passing game.

Kendrick Bourne and Richie James don't see as many snaps as the clear third and fourth receivers in this offense, but they have been extremely productive with their opportunities, racking up team-leading 0.93 and 1.53 Reception NEP per target, respectively. Add in efficient passing to the running backs, and this offense takes advantage of all of their options, making it hard to predict who they will target from week to week.

Seattle ranks as the 15th-best pass defense entering the final week of the season, allowing 0.07 Adjusted Defensive Passing NEP per drop back. The Seahawks will likely be without safety Quandre Diggs, who missed Week 16 with an ankle injury and looks unlikely to suit up in the season finale. Diggs has provided a boost since coming over to Seattle in a trade from the Detroit Lions and would be missed in this crucial divisional matchup. On the plus side, Seattle is set to get pass-rusher Jadeveon Clowney and number-one corner Shaquill Griffin back from multi-week absences, and their presence should provide an immediate spark to this pass D.

The Seahawks bring the eighth-ranked passing attack into this NFC West showdown, producing 0.18 Adjusted Passing NEP per drop back through 15 games. Russell Wilson has had plenty of practice against top-10 passing defenses this year, and though his 0.05 Passing NEP per drop back in the split is a bit lackluster, his 12 passing touchdowns and 3 interceptions points toward his dependability even in the toughest of spots.

Sacks have been a problem for Wilson, however, with seven games of four or more sacks on the season, including Week 10's battle against the 49ers in which he was sacked five times. As the league's fifth-most run-heavy team, the number of sacks is certainly a concern. And with the running back position decimated by injuries for Seattle, Wilson may be called upon more often in the passing game.

When the Seahawks do put the ball in the air, the passing game runs through receivers Tyler Lockett and D.K. Metcalf. Lockett leads the team with 76 receptions on 104 targets, and Metcalf is second with 52 receptions on 88 targets. Lockett has propelled this offense with an exceptional 0.84 Reception NEP per target despite being slowed by a mid-season injury.

After Lockett and Metcalf, however, Wilson's options dry up quickly. Tight end Jacob Hollister is Seattle's third-most targeted receiver on the year with just 51 targets, and with a 0.42 Reception NEP per target, Hollister is Seattle's least efficient healthy target. Malik Turner saw his snap rate jump up last week in the absence of Josh Gordon, but Turner will miss Week 17 with a concussion. Jaron Brown and David Moore will likely see more snaps this week, but with just 31 receptions combined, they are far from game-changing options.

San Francisco boasts the league's second-best pass defense, allowing -0.16 Adjusted Defensive Passing NEP per drop back on the year. This unit hasn't been as dominant lately, however, allowing solid games from Lamar Jackson, Drew Brees, Matt Ryan, and Jared Goff over the last four. While that is obviously a tough stretch of opposing quarterbacks, Wilson could pose similar problems. The 49ers have been a bit banged up defensively and will be without defensive lineman Dee Ford and defensive back Jaquiski Tartt for yet another week, but this is still a talented defense. Seattle will need to keep Nick Bosa and company away from Wilson to avoid the pressure that has derailed this offense from time to time.

Rushing Game Preview

San Francisco's running game ranks 19th in the league, producing 0.00 Adjusted Rushing NEP per carry. Raheem Mostert has settled in as the lead back in this offense, registering over half the offensive snaps in every game since Week 12. Mostert has clearly been the 49ers' best running back, recording 0.13 Rushing NEP per carry while both Tevin Coleman and Matt Breida have generated negative Rushing NEP per carry. As the 49ers have shifted more work to Mostert, this has become a better rushing offense than the season-long numbers would suggest.

Seattle's defense has struggled at times stopping the run, allowing 0.05 Adjusted Defensive Rushing NEP per carry, making them the 23rd-ranked unit in the league. After a strong start to the season, Seattle has begun to show signs of weakness stopping the run, culminating last week with Kenyan Drake's 24-carry, 166-yard and two-touchdown performance. The return of Clowney will certainly help the defense as a whole, but the run D is an area of worry for Seattle.

Seattle ranks as the league's 15th best rushing offense, checking in at 0.02 Adjusted Rushing NEP per carry in 2019. Unfortunately, the Seahawks enter this crucial game decimated at the running back position, as Chris Carson, Rashaad Penny, and C.J. Prosise have all been lost to injury. That leaves sixth-round rookie Travis Homer and recently signed veterans Marshawn Lynch and Robert Turbin to carry the load from here on out.

With a combined eight carries in 2019 between the three running backs, it's hard to know how productive this unit can be. But Carson had produced only -0.01 Rushing NEP per carry on his 278 carries before injury, so it is hard to imagine any of these options being much of a difference-maker. Wilson has amassed 0.13 Rushing NEP on 52 carries this year, and Seattle may be wise to let him carry the ball from time to time.

This 49ers defense doesn't have much of a weakness, ranking seventh versus the run while allowing -0.04 Adjusted Defensive Rushing NEP per carry. With a depleted running back position for the 'Hawks, it is hard to imagine Seattle having much success on the ground in this one. Carson rushed 25 times for just 89 yards in the Week 10 battle between these two, and Seattle would likely feel fortunate to replicate those numbers this week.

Historical Comparison

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