The 49ers on Monday night have a chance to make it nearly impossible for the rest of the NFC West to catch them this season.
And, if they want to set their sights even higher, a victory over the Seattle Seahawks at Levi’s Stadium would give them a two-game lead in the loss column for home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs with seven games remaining.
But it does not figure to be easy.
The 49ers (8-0) face the second-place Seahawks (7-2) in a game that could shift the pendulum of momentum in the NFC West.
The 49ers likely will be without their best player in George Kittle, so here are five 49ers who will play important roles on Monday night against Pete Carroll's team:
5. DE Dee Ford
Dee Ford is the 49ers’ fleetest pass-rusher. He has an explosive first step, and he will need that kind of quickness to close the gap on Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, who is incredible at avoiding the rush and delivering the ball down the field.
Ford has 5.5 sacks through the first half of the season, and he must get pressure on Wilson while going against right tackle Germain Ifedi or left tackle Duane Brown.
Ford has to be able to use his teammates on the front four to his advantage, too. Nick Bosa will generate heat on the other side, and defensive tackles DeForest Buckner and Arik Armstead will be entrusted to collapse the pocket.
Ford must be controlled and not allow Wilson to escape into open space, allowing him to keep the play alive and throw the ball down the field to generate big plays.
4. WR Deebo Samuel
The 49ers do not expect Kittle to play, which means someone has to step up and provide a reliable target in the passing game on third downs.
Although Samuel had a blatant drop in the end zone for what should have been a touchdown last week in Arizona, the 49ers believe the rookie is putting things together and has a chance to make some big plays. They will find different ways to get the ball in his hands.
It did not take long for veteran Emmanuel Sanders to become the 49ers’ top wide receiver after his arrival via a trade with the Denver Broncos. The 49ers are expected to activate Marquise Goodwin, and his speed will give the Seattle defense something with which to contend.
Samuel is the 49ers’ second-leading receiver with 22 receptions for 227 yards. He should have some opportunities against a Seahawks defense that allows 278.1 yards passing per game.
3. LB Dre Greenlaw
The season-ending injury to linebacker Kwon Alexander is a big blow to the 49ers’ defense.
Now, the 49ers turn to rookie Dre Greenlaw, a fifth-round pick from Arkansas.
The 49ers’ defense has been vulnerable against the run. Opponents are averaging 4.7 yards per rushing attempt. Seattle running back Chris Carson is a load. He can make the 49ers pay with his ability to pick up yards between the tackles.
Carson has gained 764 yards on 175 rushing attempts, so the Seahawks are not shy about using him. One of the big keys to this game is how the Seahawks run the ball on first and second downs. If Wilson is faced with a lot of third-and-long situations, the 49ers will be able to unleash their pass rush and control the game.
Greenlaw will be tested repeatedly as Seahawks offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer will look to exploit the young player.
2. CB Richard Sherman
Richard Sherman did not want to leave Seattle. (In fact, he still makes his offseason home there.) But the Seahawks pushed him out in March 2018 after he tore his Achilles in November 2017.
Sherman has been all-in with the 49ers, as he is motivated to prove the Seahawks made a poor decision.
The shift in power in the NFC West could be completed Monday night, and Sherman has a chance to play a major role in the 49ers’ rise and the Seahawks’ fall.
After limping through last season without an interception, Sherman is back to being the playmaker he was known to be during his seven seasons in Seattle. Sherman has three interceptions and has provided invaluable leadership with the 49ers.
He would love nothing more than to pick off Wilson, who has thrown 22 touchdown passes with just one interception through nine games. The 49ers’ secondary face a stiff challenge against receivers Tyler Lockett, DK Metcalf and newly acquired Josh Gordon, so Sherman figures to be tested throughout the game.
1. QB Jimmy Garoppolo
Matt Schaub, yes, Matt Schaub, threw for 460 yards against the Seahawks two weeks ago. Last week, Jameis Winston went for 335 vs. Seattle.
Jimmy Garoppolo is not expected to have his most-reliable target, Kittle, for Monday’s game. Kittle is doubtful with knee and ankle issues. But Garoppolo still has the capabilities of having a big night on the big stage.
“We always have the scheme in that gives us the option to go that way,” 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said.
“And depending what they do, it will dictate how he plays, who he goes to with the ball and how much we throw. Every time Jimmy steps out there, he has that opportunity.”
Garoppolo is having a solid season, completing 70.8 percent of his passes with 13 touchdowns and seven interceptions. Garoppolo has been particularly efficient on third downs. He leads the NFL with 55.4 percent of his third-down attempts (36 of 65) completed for first down.