If someone took the time to make some decent power rankings, and I'm not talking about power rankings that you read at ESPN or Yahoo, I mean literally ranking which teams pack the most punch on Sundays, the San Fransisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks would take the top two spots, and it wouldn't even be close.
These teams are nearly identical, in a world where passing offenses are booming and scores climb higher and higher, both are built on the idea that you can minimize your mistakes, control the clock with a solid running game and play great defense; slowly grabbing ahold of victories with brute force.
Both teams have invested early round draft picks in their offensive lines and feature high profile, productive players at running back, with solid players backing them up. If either squad falls behind by a couple of touchdowns they will have plenty of trouble coming back against the other team's defense, as both offenses feature average passing attacks and elite defensive units.
In all the similarities though, there are a few small details that I think will shape the way this game plays out. As it is my job, and my pleasure, I will lay them out for you here this morning.
Ted Ginn Jr versus Leon Washington
This isn't technically Leon matched up against Ted Ginn, it's each returner against the other teams coverage units. Ginn is only returning punts this year (Kyle Williams has taken over kick returning duties along with Kendall Hunter) but Seahawks fans know what Ginn can do; he torched Seattle for two return touchdowns late in the teams' first matchup last year to seal the victory for San Fransisco. He isn't having his best year, but the potential for a big play is ever present when he's back to return a punt.
Leon Washington, on the other hand, has found some success this season; while his return average is... somewhat average, he has found big plays when the Seahawks have needed them (see his last return against the Patriots). He'll need to make a play late against an average 49ers coverage unit, as the game will likely hinge on field position late.
Clemons and his gang of misfits versus the 49ers offensive line on passing downs
Seattle's defensive line has become one of the best in the NFL -- good news because the 49ers have one of the better offensive lines to counter it. This is truly a strength versus strength situation.
Everything starts right in the middle, where Jason Jones has been one of the most productive interior lineman in pass rush situations so far this year, along with Brandon Mebane. The 49ers' interior O-lineman will have their hands full. It will be crucial that those two, along with Alan Branch, at least occupy the guards on passing downs as the tackles will be enough for Clemons and Irvin to handle when trying to get to Alex Smith.
Vernon Davis will likely be out in routes unless the line can get pressure early. This would certainly benefit the Seahawks as their seam defenders will have a hell of a time dealing with his speed down the middle.
Seattle's pass blockers versus San Francisco's pass rush
More of a "weakness on weakness" matchup, this is just as important a battle. The 49ers have struggled to get pressure on quarterbacks this year, while the Seahawks have had issues in pass protection (Wilson has only been sacked 12 times, but has avoided plenty more with his athletisism). In week 1, the Cardinals brought pressure up the middle and forced Russell Wilson into some mistakes, and San Francisco will surely be looking to achieve the same outcome. With Justin Smith inside they certainly have someone who can help collapse a pocket. They will need to; Wilson can make plays on the move but I'm sure the 49ers would rather take their chances on that front than let him relax in the pocket.
Alex Smith versus Russell Wilson
If there were a "re-do" of both the 2005 and 2012 NFL drafts one of these guys would be picked considerably later than he was, and the other would likely be picked far earlier. While completely different in nature, both face their own challenges and limitations.
One or both will struggle tonight; they face great defenses, ones that will not give up many opportunities for success. While the Seahawks secondary is undoubtedly the more talented unit in coverage, the Niners are no pack of pansies.
This is likely the most important matchup, as I feel both run games will struggle to gain anything easy. There will be third downs to convert and turnovers to avoid, and most likely fights to break up. The quarterback that coverts and avoids most often will find himself all smiles come time for post game interviews.
The Seahawks need to punch the 49ers in the mouth. They're on the road against a very physical team that is coming off an embarrassing loss. A sweep of the Hawks last year likely gives the Niners a strong sense of confidence, but the matchups are there to be won for Seattle.
As I said before, Electric Light Orchestra could not ever write a song that could encompass what we are going to watch tonight. But they tried anyways:
Save me, oh save me
It's unreal, the suffering
There's gonna be a Showdown
And it's rainin' all over the world
It's raining all over the world
Tonight, the longest night
Rambling never got anyone anywhere, but it does make for a good way to kill time. Join me on twitter @MyHawkSoFly