The story goes that on Jim Harbaugh’s first visit to CenturyLink Field in 2011, after his team escaped with a 19-17 victory over Tarvaris Jackson and the Seahawks, that the 49ers staff pranced through the building yelling, “Merry Christmas!” to Seahawks coaches, the media, fans and anyone else who was in earshot. They return three years later to play a game that very well may be the epitaph on their tenure in San Francisco. Pete Carroll constantly preaches that finishing is what matters. His team has a chance to have the merriest of holiday seasons by finishing Harbaugh and the 49ers this Sunday.
The arc of Harbaugh vs. Carroll in the NFL
Carroll arrived in Seattle one year prior to Harbaugh taking over in San Francisco. The Seahawks were among the worst teams and least talented rosters in the NFL when Carroll over. The 49ers frustrated their fans by underachieving with a roster stocked full of talent before Harbaugh arrived. Seattle managed to win a division and a playoff game in Carroll’s first year, but were still so much less talented than the 49ers that they were underdogs heading into the first game between a Harbaugh-led San Francisco team. The 49ers won that first meeting by 16 points, in what has been their largest margin of victory in the series since then.
Much has changed. Oddsmakers have the Seahawks as 10-point favorites heading into this game. You can find solid odds at Bet365 (full review here). The history of this of matchup can almost be told just by looking at the line heading into each game and the result.
The chart includes the NFC Champioships game (Game 7)
Harbaugh and team were the favorites, and deservedly so, early in this rivalry. In fact, most 49ers fans would not even consider it a rivalry until late in 2012 when the Seahawks finally got their first win in emphatic fashion. But even with two blowout victories in a row, the Seahawks were never favored by more than four points until this week.
The talent gap was the first thing to disappear between the teams. Then the Seahawks gained an upper hand schematically with how they contained the San Francisco offense. And now, it appears headed for a complete dissection of the 49er psyche.
They will likely start this game with a lot of effort, but it could mimic a scene that happened when a near-breaking point Arizona Cardinals team came to town in 2012, and their players ended up telling Seahawks players that they “just wanted to get out of there healthy,” during a 58-0 whitewash.
The result may not be that lopsided, but the Seahawks have been trashing teams that had everything to play for the last three weeks, and they have been leaving a ton of scoring opportunities on the table. If they play to their same level and get a few breaks like turnovers, this could get extremely lopsided. And if that happens, Harbaugh and staff may not make it until the end of the season. Merry Christmas, indeed.