NFL Wild Card Saturday Preview: Seahawks hope to solve 49ers in Santa Clara while Chargers seek revenge in Jacksonville

Dec 15, 2022; Seattle, Washington, USA; San Francisco 49ers quarterback Brock Purdy (13) passes against the Seattle Seahawks during the fourth quarter at Lumen Field. Mandatory Credit: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

NFL Wild Card Saturday Preview: Seahawks hope to solve 49ers in Santa Clara while Chargers seek revenge in Jacksonville

Seattle Seahawks (9-8) at San Francisco 49ers (13-4)

Time/TV: 3:30 p.m. CT/FOX

Saturday afternoon’s matinee from Santa Clara, California between the Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers will kick off the wild card round. As divisional foes, San Francisco and Seattle met twice this season, with the 49ers winning both games. San Francisco ended its season winning 10 straight, despite quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo’s injury necessitating that seventh-round rookie Brock Purdy take over for the season’s final six games. The Seahawks will become the first team to get a second shot at Purdy Saturday afternoon after his first career road win came at Seattle back on Dec. 15. Seattle, even after toppling the Rams last Sunday to finish the regular season 9-8, still needed help to arrive at Saturday’s opportunity. Green Bay’s upset loss to Detroit in Week 18’s edition of Sunday Night Football clinched the Seahawks’ playoff spot. The Seahawks entered the 2022 season with low expectations following former quarterback Russell Wilson’s departure, but a 6-3 start sparked belief in rejuvenated signal caller Geno Smith and provided enough of a cushion for the Seahawks to survive some late-season doldrums.

The Seahawks scored a total of 20 points over their two games versus San Francisco and were blown out 27-7 in the division rivals’ meeting at Levi’s Stadium back in Week 2. Toppling the mighty 49ers on the road in the playoffs might seem like an impossible task, but Seahawks’ head coach Pete Carroll has a long history of coaching teams that exceed expectations when it matters most. If Seattle has any shot of pulling off the upset Saturday, it will absolutely have to improve defensively against the run. The Seahawks allowed an average of 150.2 rush yards per game, 30th-best in the NFL, including allowing 359 total rush yards to the 49ers in two games. If Seattle can step up and plug the holes in its run defense, it can potentially force Purdy into more obvious passing downs in third-and-long situations. If it cannot, Purdy will have the Seahawks’ defense on skates as it tries to contend with a dynamic rushing attack and plenty of play-action shots downfield.

Los Angeles Chargers (10-7) at Jacksonville Jaguars (9-8)

Time/TV: 7:15 p.m. CT/NBC

The Los Angeles Chargers and Jacksonville Jaguars each enter Saturday night’s wild-card round showdown having played well down the home stretch of the regular season. The Jaguars won their final five games, qualifying for the playoffs with a win over division rival Tennessee in Week 18, while the L.A. Chargers won four of their last five to clinch the AFC’s No. 5 seed. Los Angeles and Jacksonville met all the way back on Sep. 25 in Los Angeles, a game the Jaguars won 38-10 to improve to 2-1. At the time, Jacksonville’s win at SoFi Stadium was considered a monumental upset. Los Angeles entered the season with lofty expectations, while Jaguars’ quarterback Trevor Lawrence entered 2022 with everything to prove after a 3-14 rookie campaign. Lawrence has improved dramatically since last season, as have the Jaguars as a whole. Head coach Doug Peterson looks like a home run hire, instilling confidence in one of the NFL’s youngest rosters en route to an AFC South title. At just 23 years old, Trevor Lawrence is the youngest quarterback starting in this season’s playoffs.

For Los Angeles, flipping the script after Week 3’s blowout loss could be as simple as entering the wild card round with quarterback Justin Herbert fully healthy. Herbert was hobbled by a rib injury in L.A.’s blowout loss, completing just 25 of 45 pass attempts while turning the football over both via interception and fumble. The Chargers’ prodigious 24-year-old quarterback has been playing much better football lately, healthy and surrounded by a full complement of weapons to work with. Keenan Allen’s return to the field at wide receiver has allowed Herbert to spread the football around better, with Allen, Mike Williams, and running back Austin Ekeler all posing threats to defenses in the passing game. Los Angeles averages 269 yards passing per game, third-most in the NFL. Saturday night, Justin Herbert will take aim at a Jacksonville secondary allowing the fifth-most passing yards in the league this season.

Chargers’ head coach Brandon Staley faced criticism after his decision to play all of the team’s regular starters last Sunday in Denver. Los Angeles had clinched the No. 5 seed in the AFC regardless of the game’s result, so risking injury did not make sense to most – and sure enough, starting wide receiver, Mike Williams was forced to exit the game with a back injury in the second quarter. Williams is considered questionable to play as of Friday morning – if he is unable to go, wide receivers Keenan Allen and Joshua Palmer will be tasked with increasing their production in his absence.

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