Since completing just nine of 23 passes for 122 yards against the San Francisco 49ers on Oct. 18, Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson hasn't just been good by rookie standards, he's been one of the top quarterbacks in the league.
In the seven games since, Wilson has thrown for 13 touchdowns while getting intercepted just three times, and he's rushed for 283 yards and three scores.
"Our trust in him has just skyrocketed in the last month," Seattle coach Pete Carroll said Wednesday. "He's ready, and we try to utilize every way we can to make it hard on our opponents."
The Seahawks' surge in the standings has coincided with Wilson's emergence. Seattle (9-5) won five of its past six games to close the gap on San Francisco (10-3-1) in the NFC West. Before the 49ers' upset win at New England on Sunday, the upcoming Sunday meeting at CenturyLink Field in Seattle had the makings of a division-championship game.
The 49ers can lock up the division crown with a win, and even with a loss, they could clinch the division the following week with a win at home against Arizona. That's not to say Sunday's game lacks importance -- a playoff bye is now at stake for San Francisco.
With the Green Bay Packers a half-game behind San Francisco in the NFC playoff picture, the 49ers can lock up a first-round bye with wins in their final two games. There is also the potential for home-field advantage throughout the playoffs if Atlanta were to drop its games against the Detroit Lions and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Home-field advantage and a first-round bye are important, San Francisco linebacker Patrick Willis said.
"I can't say I can speak from a lot of years of experience, but last year I think it was really big for us," he said.
Assuming Green Bay wins its final two games against the Tennessee Titans and the Minnesota Vikings, a San Francisco loss to Seattle potentially could mean another trip to Lambeau Field for the 49ers.
In that scenario, which assumes a 49ers win against Arizona in Week 17, San Francisco would host a first-round game against either Minnesota, the Chicago Bears, the Dallas Cowboys or the New York Giants. A win would then send San Francisco to Green Bay, where the 49ers opened the season with a 30-22 win. However, the tundra at Green Bay won't be the same in January as it was in September.
While Seattle is 6-0 at home this year, San Francisco has a trend on its side, too. The 49ers are 5-0 in prime-time games this season, including the first meeting with the Seahawks, which was played on a Thursday night.
San Francisco coach Jim Harbaugh acknowledged playing in the national spotlight can bring a little something extra out of a player.
"Yeah, somewhat. Back into the playing days, I remember that," he said. "The night games, the lights on. You put the silks on. You had kind of a more special feeling, yeah. I can relate to that. That resonates."