Barring an injury or an unexpected drop-off, the 49ers and Seattle Seahawks should once again battle down to the wire for the NFC West crown.
As good as the 49ers were last season, it took a Dre Greenlaw tackle on the 1-yard line in Week 17 for San Francisco to clinch the division and send Seattle to the wild-card round. While the 49ers have a better overall roster, Russell Wilson is the great equalizer. As long as he's healthy, the Seahawks can't be counted out of the division race.
As close as they are, each team's path to another Week 17 clash -- this time at Levi's Stadium -- could play a huge role in who has the upper hand heading into what is expected to be a game with massive playoff and division implications.
After a brutal stretch in which Seattle plays the Dallas Cowboys, Minnesota Vikings, Arizona Cardinals, 49ers and Buffalo Bills from late September through the end of October, the Seahawks were given an early Christmas gift with their December schedule. While the 49ers have to play the Bills, Washington, the Cowboys and Cardinals in the lead-up that Week 17 clash with the Seahawks, Pete Carroll's club has one of the easier stretches in the NFL.
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The Seahawks will host the New York Giants and New York Jets in back-to-back weeks to open December before flying to Washington and then heading back home to face the Los Angeles Rams.
Since Wilson's rookie season, the Seahawks are 16-4 against East Coast teams heading West, which doesn't give you a lot of faith in Daniel Jones or Sam Darnold pulling off the upset. Going into FedEx Field in Week 15 won't scare Seattle either, as the Seahawks are 7-0 in the eastern time zone since 2018.
The Rams are no pushover, but they are racing toward a rebuild unless Jared Goff and Sean McVay can find the magic powder that helped them get to the Super Bowl two seasons ago.
There's a good chance the Seahawks will enter December at least a game or two behind the 49ers after that brutal early stretch. But a breezy December schedule leading up to Week 17 could get Wilson and Carroll right back in the division mix.
While the Seahawks should be beating up on the bottom feeders from the AFC and NFC East, the 49ers will play what are likely to be tough, physical games against two expected playoff teams in the Bills and Cowboys, and a Week 16 trip to the desert to face an up-and-coming Cardinals team that gave them fits last year.
The difference in those stretches could end up playing a huge role in who is more rested and has more momentum in what might once again be a winner-take-all Week 17 game.