Seattle Seahawks (11-4) at San Francisco 49ers (6-9)
The 49ers have had a disappointing season at 6-9, but they’ve played significantly better than their record suggests, despite being one of the most injury plagued teams in the league. Their -11 point differential is much more in line with a .500 team, despite the fact that they’ve played an above average schedule. They have also struggled in metrics that tend to be highly inconsistent on a week-to-week basis and have almost no predictive value as a result.
Turnover margin is the most impactful metric with minimal predictive value and the 49ers rank 2nd worst in the league at -10. That has also led to a -4 return touchdown margin which has cost them at least a couple games (Washington and Philadelphia) by itself, not to mention a loss to Dallas in which they were -4 in turnovers and -24 in points off turnovers. The 49ers won the first down rate battle by a wide margin in all 3 of those games and could easily be 9-6 right now if a couple things had gone differently in those games.
The 49ers are also -23.44% in 4th down rate conversion differential, another impactful metric with minimal predictive value. In terms of schedule adjusted first down rate differential, which is much more predictive, the 49ers rank 4th at +3.78%. That’s not to say they are the 4th best team in the league, but a deep dive into the numbers shows that they have played a lot better this season on a per snap basis than their 6-9 record would suggest.
Unfortunately, now in the last game of the season, the 49ers are even more depleted than they’ve been all season, with several new players being added to the injury report in the past week. On offense, the 49ers will be missing their top-2 quarterbacks Jimmy Garoppolo and Nick Mullens, their top running back Raheem Mostert, their top-2 wide receivers Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk, their top-2 centers Weston Richburg and Ben Garland, and their stud left tackle Trent Williams.
Meanwhile, on defense, the 49ers will be without their top-2 defensive tackles Javon Kinlaw and Kevin Givens, their top-2 edge defenders Nick Bosa and Dee Ford, two of their top-3 linebackers Dre Greenlaw and Kwon Alexander, two of their top-3 cornerbacks Richard Sherman and K’Waun Williams, and starting safety Jaquiski Tartt. Aiyuk, Williams, Greenlaw, and Williams have been added to the list of absent players just in the past week, after playing significant snaps in last week’s win over the Cardinals. Overall, the 49ers rank just 23rd in my roster rankings, without all of the players they are missing.
That’s a problem because the 49ers are playing a tough Seahawks team. The Seahawks’ offense has played well all season, ranking 5th in first down rate over expected at +2.11%, but it has been the emergence of their defense that has them in a strong position heading into the post-season. After struggling through the early part of the season, the Seahawks now rank 19th in first down rate allowed over expected at +0.72%, leading to the Seahawks winning 5 of their past 6 games, including last week’s win over the Rams to clinch the division and keep the Seahawks alive for the #1 seed in the NFC.
Defensive performance tends to be much more inconsistent on a week-to-week basis than offensive performance, so it was always predictable that the Seahawks would get better defensively as the season went along, especially with the return of Jamal Adams and Shaq Griffin from injury and the addition of Carlos Dunlap from the Bengals. The Seahawks also have typically played much better in the second half of the season than the first half in the Russell Wilson era, going 45-23-3 ATS in weeks 9-16, as opposed to 34-34-4 ATS in weeks 1-8. This line is pretty high at Seattle -7, but I have them calculated as 10-point favorites, so we’re actually getting some good line value with them against a skeleton crew 49ers team. The Seahawks are worth a bet at -7 and if -6.5 pops up before gametime, I will increase this bet.
Seattle Seahawks 31 San Francisco 49ers 20
Pick against the spread: Seattle -7