SEATTLE -- Even before the transactions of the week, the hype was building. Heated rivals playing the final game of the NFL regular season with massive implications for the playoffs all centered around the winner claiming the NFC West title.
And then for an added layer of drama to Sunday night’s matchup between Seattle and San Francisco, the Seahawks brought back Marshawn Lynch this week for one more ride in a Seattle uniform.
A big game? You bet.
“This is definitely a week you don’t have to try at all to get your team up for the game,” San Francisco coach Kyle Shanahan said. “It’ll be the same thing for them. Just the times I’ve been in this situation in the past, it’s extremely fun to coach. You have everyone’s attention, everyone is completely into it. No stone goes unturned by anyone. You don’t have to push anyone on that. Everyone’s going to be locked in and that’s all you can do.”
After a memorable Week 10 matchup in which Seattle prevailed in overtime, the encore between the Seahawks and 49ers has ever more at stake. Perhaps the most important meeting between the division rivals since the 2013 NFC championship game won by Seattle because of what it means to the NFC playoff picture.
If San Francisco wins, it’s simple. The 49ers will claim the division and home-field advantage through the NFC playoffs if they can win in Seattle for the first time since 2011.
A Seattle victory will give the Seahawks their fifth division title in Pete Carroll’s 10 seasons in charge and ensure at least the No. 3 seed and a home playoff game. Depending on what happens earlier in the day, Seattle could move up to No. 2 or No. 1.
The loser has a date with an NFC East host — currently Philadelphia — in the opening round of the playoffs.
“We know it’s going to be fun. We know it’s going to be super intense,” Seattle linebacker K.J. Wright said. “But we’re not looking too far ahead.”
The return of Lynch was a positive jolt to a Seattle locker room that needed one after last week’s loss to Arizona that also saw running backs Chris Carson (hip) and C.J. Prosise (arm) lost for the season to injuries. He hasn’t played in 14 months, his last game coming in Week 6 of last season with Oakland. The last time he took a carry for Seattle was its NFC divisional round playoff loss to Carolina in January 2016.
Yet Lynch is all anyone wants to talk about. And if he can look a little bit like the Lynch of old, he could be just what Seattle needs going into the playoffs.
“The fun part about playing with him is he can make any play a great play,” Seattle QB Russell Wilson said.