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Game Scout: 49ers at Seahawks

The SportsXchange

San Francisco 49ers (14-4) at Seattle Seahawks (14-3)

Sunday, 6:30 p.m. ET, at CenturyLink Field, Seattle - TV: FOX

*TV announcers: Joe Buck, Troy Aikman, Pam Oliver, Erin Andrews

*Keys to the game: The 49ers finished the regular season with the league's fifth-ranked defense and have scored exactly 23 points in each of their past three games. The Seahawks had the league's No. 1 defense in scoring, total yards allowed and defending the pass, but has topped 23 points just once in their past five games.

Translation? This is going to be a game dictated by the defenses - which one can provide short fields? Lengthy drives will be few and far between. Which one can come up with a key turnover?

The Seattle airwaves have been buzzing all week about one topic - what's wrong with the offense? QB Russell Wilson has produced the two lowest passing totals of his career over the past three games, the wide receivers aren't getting separation and the coaching staff continues to tinker with the offensive line. Bottom line, this is a run-first team and Marshawn Lynch has three of the five 100-yard rushing games against San Francisco over the past four seasons.

Fans want offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell to open it up and take a few more chances, but Seattle's philosophy the second half of the season has been to expect to win two phases - defense and special teams - and then take advantage of short fields and grind out games with Lynch's legs.

If San Francisco can win the line of scrimmage on defense, it can knock Seattle out of its comfort zone. It's absolutely vital for the 49ers' offense to score early and stay on top of the scoreboard. QB Colin Kaepernick has had difficulty simply communicating in his previous two trips to Seattle. Look for offensive coordinator Greg Roman to throw plenty of early body blows with RB Frank Gore in an attempt to establish the run and control the field, and filter in options for Kaepernick, who has hurt Seattle in the past with his legs in manageable third-down situations.

The 49ers have more explosiveness in their offensive personnel, but the key will be eliminating the big negative plays that have haunted them in Seattle and being efficient inside the red zone.

*Matchup to watch - 49ers DL Justin Smith vs. Seahawks LG Michael Bowie: For all of the attention Aldon Smith and LBs NaVorro Bowman and Patrick Willis receive, the table is still set by Justin Smith's work on the inside. At 34, he still gobbles up double-teams and frees teammates to make plays, dominating at Green Bay on wild-card weekend. Bowie is a seventh-round rookie who made his first career start at left guard last week. Coach Pete Carroll preaches competition, and said Bowie earned the start over James Carpenter and performed well against New Orleans. This week presents a much more daunting task. Not only is Smith strong and experienced, but Bowie must be alert to the stunts the 49ers run to send Aldon Smith charging through the interior.

*Player spotlight - Seahawks WR Percy Harvin: Whether or not Harvin can pass the league's concussion protocol by Saturday could be the deciding factor. He plays at a different speed than anyone else on the offense, and he gives Seattle a desperately needed dynamic the 49ers must respect.

*Fast facts: The all-time series is tied 15-15. ... Kaepernick has completed 32 of 64 passes (50 percent) for 371 yards, one touchdown and four interceptions while being sacked four times in two career starts in Seattle. ... The 49ers are 15-0 when Kaepernick has a passer rating of at least 100. ... Including playoffs, Wilson is 16-1 at home with a 110.7 passer rating.

WHO WILL WIN AND WHY

Everyone knows the stat - the 49ers have been outscored 71-16 in their past two trips to Seattle. Unless Colin Kaepernick suffers another meltdown and Seattle's defense gets the ball rolling downhill, this is going to be a different type of game, far more resembling the 19-17 defensive slugfest the 49ers won at home in Week 14. But until Kaepernick proves he can execute in the environment, Seattle's 12th Man tips the scales ever so slightly.

*Our pick: Seahawks 20-19

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