With a playoff spot already secured, the Seattle Seahawks can focus on achieving some loftier goals.
Though the San Francisco 49ers have been dominated by their division rivals in the last two meetings, they'll have more than revenge on their minds Sunday.
Looking for an eighth straight victory, the Seahawks can clinch the NFC West and a first-round bye while trying to avoid a fifth consecutive road defeat to the 49ers.
Owner of the NFL's best record, Seattle (11-1) earned a playoff berth after running its home win streak to 14 games with Monday's 34-7 rout of New Orleans.
"We accomplished something; we're a playoff team, which is great to know that," coach Pete Carroll said. "But that's not our goal, and we don't talk that way.
"We want to win this division, and that division gets us a chance to play at home, and that's what we're after. And then we'll talk about what comes next."
Looking for a single-season franchise-record sixth road win, the Seahawks can clinch the division and a first-round bye with a tie or a third straight victory over San Francisco (8-4). They need only split their final four games to earn home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs.
"Everybody that is on this team understands that we are in a great position to do something that will last longer than our playing days and we're trying to take advantage of every opportunity that we have," said defensive end Red Bryant, who helped the Seahawks hold the high-powered Saints to a season-low 188 total yards.
However, the Seahawks likely don't expect their next challenge to be easy.
Seattle has held the 49ers to 520 total yards while outscoring them 71-16 in the last two meetings, but both came within the deafening confines of CenturyLink Field. The Seahawks, on the other hand, have been outscored 109-54 during their four-game skid at Candlestick Park.
While the 49ers can use that home success as a confidence-builder, avenging the last two losses in the series won't be their major means of motivation.
"I've never taken the revenge approach," coach Jim Harbaugh said. "Validation, we want to play well, we want to win. ... Your goal is to win the football game. That's really all-consuming, you want to win."
After outscoring Washington and St. Louis 50-19 in its last two games, San Francisco has a one-game lead for the NFC's final wild-card spot.
"You definitely want to come out and play well, at home, and show everybody what we can do against a really good team," fullback Bruce Miller said. "Right now, our goal is to finish out the year and keep winning games and get to the postseason."
Colin Kaepernick has done a solid job managing the 49ers offense by completing 65.4 percent of his passes while throwing four touchdowns and no interceptions over the last two weeks. However, during the 29-3 loss at Seattle on Sept. 15, he was 13 of 28 for 127 yards with three interceptions and a fumble while being sacked three times. He did rush nine times for 87 yards.
Teammate Frank Gore ran for 131 yards and caught five passes for 51 during last season's 13-6 home win over the Seahawks, but was held to 44 yards on 15 carries and one catch for 14 in the last two at Seattle.
The Seahawks' Marshawn Lynch has totaled five touchdowns in the last two games against the 49ers and averaged 104.8 rushing yards in the last four. The Seahawks have rushed for 348 yards in the last two versus San Francisco, which ranks 11th in the NFL against the run (105.5 yards per game).
Russell Wilson threw an INT without a TD in last season's loss at San Francisco, but has five touchdowns and two picks in the two wins. He's also completed 73.0 percent of his passes in his last four games overall, thrown 14 of his 22 touchdowns in the last six and only two of his six interceptions in the last seven.
In addition to trying to handle the Seahawks on both sides of the ball, the 49ers understand the importance of keeping their composure against an opponent that likes to trash talk. The teams combined for 22 penalties in the first 2013 meeting, with a season-high 12 for 121 yards by San Francisco.
The 49ers committed nine penalties during last Sunday's 23-13 home win over St. Louis, but only Tampa Bay has been penalized more often this season than Seattle.
"Any time you play a team and you lose, the next time you face them is definitely a statement game," San Francisco tight end Vernon Davis said. "Not just for us, but for anybody.
"So we have to go into this game playing hard, playing fast, and initially we have to make some noise right away. That's going to be the challenge for us. We have to go in and play this game the way it's supposed to be played."
Davis has recorded a TD in three straight games, but has four total receptions in the last three against the Seahawks and no touchdowns in his last five meetings. The 49ers' receiving corps will be healthier than in the first meeting, though, after Michael Crabtree made his season debut against the Rams and caught two passes for 68 yards.
San Francisco's offensive line, however, may be missing two of its anchors. Left tackle Joe Staley is likely out after he injured his knee last Sunday, while guard Mike Iupati may miss a third straight game with a similar injury.
Seattle receiver Percy Harvin hopes to play after he missed Monday's contest while dealing with soreness in his surgically repaired hip.
The Associated Press News Service
The Associated Press
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