Sunday, December 23, 2012

NFL Week 16 Sunday Night Football Preview

San Francisco 49ers @ Seattle Seahawks -2.5 O/U 40

Considering the Sunday Night Football games are coming to a close, I figured it would be appropriate to construct a brief preview of tonight's divisional showdown between the 49ers and the Seahawks.

The last time these two teams met was during Week 7 on Thursday Night Football. Some of you may remember this as the infamous "Jim Harbaugh declined the safety" game in which Harbaugh declined a safety late in the fourth quarter that would have given the Niners an ATS victory, but instead he declined the penalty and thus the game ended 13-6 and Seattle covered the 7.5 point spread.

These coaches do not like each other and the mutual hatred stems from their PAC-10 days. Back in 2009, Harbaugh's Stanford Cardinals defeated Carroll's USC Trojans 55-21 at the LA Coliseum. After Stanford scored their seventh touchdown to go up 48-21, Harbaugh decided to go for the two-point conversion (which is definitely disrespectful but I thought it was funny) and Carroll was not too happy about that whatsoever. After a brief post-game confrontation at the 50-yard line, there has been undeniable tension between the two ever since.

The Seahawks are 6-0 straight up and against the spread at home this year. Russell Wilson has thrown 12 touchdowns and only one interception this season at CenturyLink. (Wilson has thrown eight touchdowns and eight interceptions on the road this year.) The common philosophy with the Seahawks is to back them at home and fade 'em on the road.

Seattle has arguably the strongest home-field advantage in all of football and I expect CenturyLink field to be absolutely rocking tonight. To his credit Kaepernick handled himself well in Foxboro last week, but it will be interesting to see if he can repeat the task in a hostile environment like Seattle.

Since CenturyLink field opened in 2002, the Seahawks are 52-31-1 (63%) against the spread playing at home. Under Pete Carroll, the Seahawks are 18-5 (78%) against the spread when playing at CenturyLink, which is tough to go against.

Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman expects to play as he is appealing a four-game suspension for using a banned substance. Seattle's other cornerback, Brandon Browner, is currently serving a four-game suspension and won't be reinstated once until the regular season is over. The Seahawks are extremely thin at the cornerback position considering their two backups (Marcus Trufant and Walter Thurmond) are both inactive for tonight's game.

On the flip side, San Francisco's Pro Bowl defensive tackle Justin Smith is inactive due to an elbow injury he suffered in last week's game against New England. I'd also like to note that the 49ers' defense was on the field for a total of 92 plays during last week's game which is easily the most they've been on the field all season. Prior to the New England game, San Francisco's defense was on the field for an average of 62 plays per game, so I'm curious to see how the Niners' defense responds, especially without Justin Smith.

I'm not going to have enough time to get too deep into analyzing statistics considering the game is going to commence in twenty minutes or so, but I will point out one thing.

San Francisco has the best net yards per play average in the NFL. In layman's terms, the 49ers offense averages 6.0 yards per play (3rd in NFL) while the defense allows only 4.6 yards per play (1st in NFL). Yards per play is the metric I use to determine how productive a team's offense or defense is (it's definitely more accurate than total yards or points per game). If we look at Seattle, their offense averages 5.7 yards per play (10th in NFL) while the defense only gives up 5.0 yards per play (4th in NFL), so there's really not much of a difference there.