October 14, 2012; San Francisco, CA, USA; San Francisco 49ers inside linebacker Patrick Willis (52) tackles New York Giants running back David Wilson (22) during the third quarter at Candlestick Park. Mandatory Credit: Ed Szczepanski-US PRESSWIRE

Thursday Night Matchup: Seattle at San Francisco

Interesting matchup tonight in the Bay City as Seattle heads south for a divisional dogfight. Last week, the ‘hawks surprised many (myself not included) by beating the New England Patriots at home. I’ve been saying for a while now that the Seahawks have the best home-field advantage in the NFL and they seem to have proven it with that win last week.

The Niners were thoroughly thrashed at home by the defending champion New York Giants, scoring only 3 points in the process, and face the NFL’s top defense tonight. Things just aren’t looking much better for the Niners on paper.

However, the Seahawks aren’t the same team on the road as they are at home. They’re undefeated at home (3-0) and 1-2 on the road with their lone victory coming at the hapless Carolina Panthers two weeks ago.

The Niners are just a slightly better team than the Panthers are, however, and I suspect Jim Harbaugh will have them ready to play. I’d hate to have been a Niners’ player this week during practice…I bet it was no fun at all.

So what we have are two very similar teams in many ways…teams with hard-nosed, physical defenses and run-first-oriented offenses. Which squad will gain the advantage over the other?

The Seahawks’ defense has probably the most physical corners in the league, and San Francisco isn’t known for having an outstanding receiving corps. They’ve added a couple of pieces for sure – Mario Manningham for one – and have Michael Crabtree, who is a physical WR in his own right.

That still may not help much if you look at the Carolina game where Seattle’s physical corners kept Steve Smith frustrated for the entire game – save one blown coverage. That happens to the best of them. Otherwise, Smith was held in check and flagged for an unsportsmanlike penalty late in the game due to that frustration.

The “wild card” in that matchup would seem to point to TE Vernon Davis. He runs a sub-4.4 40-yard dash and is a unique a weapon there as anyone has…including the New England Patriots. Gronkowski and Hernandez combine for over 10 catches, 91 yards, and a TD in that game. While the avg/catch was low, Brady was finding them when needed and that puts Davis in the spotlight for an above-average game for him tonight. We’ll see.

On the flip side, Russell Wilson has had his struggles on the road. His best QB rating of his 3 road games came, once again, against the Carolina Panthers (82.2), while his worst home game saw his QB rating stand at 99.3. He’s not the same player on the road, and that comes from being a rookie.

The Niners gave up an uncharacteristic 149 yards rushing against the Giants last week and Alex Smith was harassed into tossing 3 interceptions. With the Seahawks’ defense and rookie Bruce Irvin’s incredible burst and speed, the possibility exists for a repeat performance in the passing game as well.

However, there’s a 3-way tie at 4-2 atop the NFC West. In my opinion, the Cardinals (4-2) are more of a pretender than a contender and the ‘hawks are for real. Alex Smith has the “big-game” experience to handle the situation, at home, much better than Wilson does.

I think we’ll see the Niners challenge the interior defense of the Seahawks with their running game a lot more than they tried against the Giants, when they had no running back with double-digit carries. Look for Frank Gore and Kendall Hunter both to get at least a dozen carries tonight, with some strikes attempted over the top off of play-action and TE Vernon Davis splitting seams in the defense.

As good as Seattle’s defense is, NOBODY has a linebacker that can match up with Davis. If the Niners can get their running game going at all, that’ll be the plan.

Also look for some creative play calling on second or third and short. In a game where scoring should be hard to come by, both coaches are going to take more chances in rolling the dice on the big play and San Francisco has a defensive advantage over the Seahawks in one area – a linebacker named Patrick Willis. He’s as good as they get, and may well help prevent Marshawn Lynch of Seattle from entering “Beast Mode.”

If they can do that, the Niners will win going away.

Follow me on Twitter @Ken_Dye

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