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Three keys for Seahawks to challenge 49ers in playoff matchup

The odds are stacked against the Seahawks, but here's how Seattle can give itself a chance Saturday.

SEATTLE — The odds are stacked against the Seahawks entering the NFL playoffs.

Seattle has the second-worst odds at getting a win during Super Wild Card Weekend according to most sportsbooks. The only team with a more lopsided point spread is the Miami Dolphins, who won't have its starting quarterback against the Buffalo Bills.

The San Francisco 49ers have been a freight train over the second half of the season with rookie Brock Purdy taking over at quarterback. The NFC's No. 2 seed, the 49ers enter the postseason on a 10-game winning streak.

Anything can happen in the NFL playoffs, as the Seahawks well know. It will be the toughest test of the season so far to go into Levi's Stadium and beat the 49ers in a raucous postseason atmosphere.

The Seahawks already are playing with house money having made it this far, defying just about every preseason prediction to earn a spot in the playoffs. Seattle has nothing to lose and will need to bring that energy.

Let's take a look at three keys to the Seahawks making Saturday's matchup a competitive game, and potentially even taking down their division rivals in the Bay Area.

Pressure Brock Purdy

The 49ers' quarterback hasn't shown many signs of being a rookie after taking over for Jimmy Garoppolo as the starter in Week 13.

Purdy is leading an offense that is averaging 33 points a game since he replaced Garoppolo, and his numbers are on par with the best quarterbacks in the league over the latter half of the season.

However, Purdy still is just 23 years old and will be playing in the biggest game of his young football career on Saturday. San Francisco fans are expecting this team to win a Super Bowl, and there is significant weight on Purdy's shoulders to help lead this star-studded roster to a championship.

It will be imperative for Uchenna Nwosu, Darell Taylor and Bruce Irvin to put pressure on Purdy early and often Saturday and do whatever they can to disrupt the young quarterback's rhythm.

On that same point, the Seahawks' secondary must capitalize on any and all mistakes by Purdy. Quandre Diggs has 2 consecutive games with an interception, and Tariq Woolen ended the season tied for the league lead with six interceptions.

If the Seahawks can rattle Purdy's cage and induce a few turnovers from the 49ers' offense, that will tremendously boost their chances of a victory. Seattle has held Purdy in check more than any other team he's faced in the NFL, as San Francisco's 21 points in the last matchup against the Seahawks are by far their lowest since Purdy took over.

No team has seemed to faze Purdy so far in his NFL career, so it will be a tall task for defensive coordinator Clint Hurtt. However, this likely will be the most important factor in determining the outcome of Saturday's game.

Own the ground game

The last time these teams played at Lumen Field, the Seahawks managed just 70 rushing yards, while the 49ers racked up 170 yards on the ground.

Ken Walker has been back and looked very healthy in the Seahawks' last few games, capping off what was one of the stronger seasons by a rookie on the offensive side of the ball.

When the Seahawks have gained more than 150 yards on the ground this season, the team is 5-1. The 49ers only allowed more than 150 yards rushing once this season, but they did lose that game.

Even topping 100 yards rushing against arguably the NFL's best defense will be a steep challenge, but maintaining a steady ground game and winning the time of possession would be huge for the Seahawks' chances at a win.

On the other side, All-Pro Christian McCaffrey's arrival to the 49ers' lineup this season has made an already dynamic rushing attack even more potent. 

The Seahawks run defense has been an issue all season, as Seattle ranks 30th in rushing yards allowed.

Slowing down McCaffrey, Deebo Samuel and whoever else carries the ball Saturday will be instrumental to limiting San Francisco's high-powered offense.

Mistake-free football

Finally, the Seahawks must play as clean a game as possible on offense Saturday to have a chance.

The 49ers' defense is full of All-Pro caliber players who feast on miscues and make big plays. Nick Bosa is the best pass rusher in football, Fred Warner is a top-3 middle linebacker, and the secondary is full of defensive backs who make life difficult for opposing quarterbacks.

Geno Smith must be at his absolute best Saturday and will need to improve on a disappointing performance in the Seahawks' regular-season finale.

In his first full season as a starter in Seattle, Smith has led this team further than anyone expected him to. It will be on him to keep the offense running smoothly and finish every drive strongly.

If the Seahawks come out ahead in the turnover battle, the team will have a much better chance of advancing to the divisional round of the playoffs.

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