SEATTLE — The Seattle Seahawks can lay claim to a pretty valued title Sunday afternoon at San Francisco’s Candlestick Park — NFC West champions.
A win against the 49ers is all it will take to get what would be Seattle’s eighth division title, sixth since 2004 and second since Pete Carroll took over in 2010.
And while larger goals remain, winning the division title, and doing so on the field of the team that won it the last two years, is more than enough for now.
“That was our number one goal at the beginning of the year is seeing if we can do that first,’’ said quarterback Russell Wilson.
It’s unofficial designations, though, that may mean just as much.
While the Seahawks are an NFL-best 11-1, and have won 16 of 17 dating to Nov. 25, 2012, the 49ers remember that it was less than a year ago when they were the defending NFC champs and a few seconds away from winning it all.
As 49ers linebacker Patrick Willis said this week: “They’re the new team that’s supposed to be and we feel like we’re still the team that is.’’
In fact, the 49ers are slight Las Vegas favorites today — three points at most books.
It’s the first time this year the Seahawks have been underdogs, and likely the only time they will be during the regular season.
As such, it also shapes up as the last time before the playoffs when the Seahawks have much of a chance to prove anything to those still doubting their validity as a Super Bowl favorite.
And for as much praise as has been heaped on the Seahawks of late, some acknowledge they notice those who wonder if they are really as good as their record.
“You still find an energy in those guys that are talking negative and you pick those out,’’ said safety Earl Thomas. “That’s what keeps you going.’’
That, and the fact that if the Seahawks have a true rival, it is the 49ers, even if most of the Seahawks spent the week downplaying that angle.
“I feel like they (the 49ers) feel that way,’’ said cornerback Richard Sherman. “We just go out and play our game.’’
The 49ers organization sent a loud signal of what it thinks of the importance of the game when it sent an email to fans on when and how to cheer.
“There are some things you can’t coach,’’ Thomas responded with a smile.
He also said that for all the attempts on the Seattle side at treating it like just one of 16, the intensity on the field Sunday will likely indicate otherwise.
“You definitely want to dominate them because it’s a certain rivalry,’’ Thomas said. “I know Coach (Pete Carroll) says it’s not a rivalry, but we love playing games like this. It’s very physical, and it’s going to be a defensive game. I don’t want to say that because I know (Seattle quarterback) Russell (Wilson) has been on a tear, but I think in my heart that’s what it will be. I always expect the worst.”
Seattle, though, has gotten the best of it the last two games, beating the 49ers by a combined 71-16 in games last December and September. Each of those was at CenturyLink Field, however. Seattle hasn’t won at Candlestick since 2008, and this will be Seattle’s last chance to win there since the 49ers are moving to a new stadium in Santa Clara next season.
Carroll expects the Seahawks to find a different 49ers team than the one Seattle saw in September, particularly with the return of receiver Michael Crabtree, who played his first game of the season last week.
“I’m sure they feel a lot better (being healthier on offense),’’ Carroll said. “Their style adjusted a bit during the season and they’ve focused on some different things with what they’re doing offensively.’’
Still, the 49ers rank just 28th out of 32 teams in the NFL in total offense at 311 per game, making defense and turnovers the likely difference in a game that could give the Seahawks the first of what they hope will be several banners this season.
“This week we get to capitalize on making everything happen and locking everything up like we want to,’’ Thomas said.