5:40 PM CST, December 22, 2012
Move over, RG3. Make room for another rookie quarterback sensation . . .
That's Seattle's Russell Wilson, who happens to wear No. 3 and has helped invigorate the Seahawks, just as Robert Griffin III has pumped life into the Washington Redskins.
Wilson, coming off a record-setting performance against Buffalo, will get another crack at San Francisco on Sunday night when the 49ers play at Seattle in a game rich with playoff implications.
"He's no longer a rookie," said 49ers defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, whose team limited Wilson to 122 yards passing in a 13-6 victory in October.
"This is his 15th pro start. So, he's really a good quarterback. He's very elusive, he's fast, got good command of their offense, throws the deep stuff well and he's been a great acquisition for them."
In the win over Buffalo in Toronto, Wilson became the first player to run for three touchdowns and throw for a fourth in the same half.
Seattle has scored a combined 108 points in the last two games, and — like the 49ers — has a defense and running game ranked among the top three in the league.
The 49ers have a young, mobile star at quarterback too, in Colin Kaepernick, who threw four touchdown passes in Sunday's 41-34 win at New England.
By winning — something no visiting team has done in Seattle this season — the 49ers (10-3-1) would clinch the NFC West and be guaranteed of a home playoff game. A San Francisco win and a Green Bay loss (to Tennessee) would secure the 49ers a first-round bye.
A victory by the Seahawks (9-5) would get them into the playoffs, although they could still get in with a loss as long as it was coupled with losses by Chicago, Minnesota and Washington.
Like Seattle, Indianapolis can lock up a spot in the playoffs by winning Sunday. The Colts (9-5) play at Kansas City, and have made a quantum leap from their 2-14 finish last season. Quarterback Andrew Luck is the leading candidate for offensive rookie of the year, and Bruce Arians — standing in for leukemia-stricken Chuck Pagano — could be the first interim coach named coach of the year.
Another win-and-they're-in team is Cincinnati, as the Bengals can grab at least a wild-card berth by winning at Pittsburgh. The Steelers control their destiny. They're in if they finish with wins over Cincinnati and Cleveland.
Denver has already won the AFC West. But if the Broncos beat Cleveland on Sunday, and New England loses at Jacksonville, Denver would clinch a first-round bye.
If Baltimore beats the New York Giants on Sunday, the Ravens win the AFC North.
In a loss to Denver last Sunday, the Ravens rushed for only 56 yards, the fifth time in nine games they have gained fewer than 100 on the ground.
"We need to be able to run the ball against the front, any front, and that's something that we have to do a better job with," Ravens Coach John Harbaugh said this week.
No one in the league is running the ball as well as Minnesota's Adrian Peterson, who has 1,812 yards rushing with remaining games against the Texans and Packers. The single-season rushing record of 2,105 yards was set by the Los Angeles Rams' Eric Dickerson in 1984.
Peterson needs to average 147 yards per game over the final two to break Dickerson's mark.
Making Peterson's feat almost unbelievable is that he suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee last Christmas Eve, an injury that once was virtually a career-ender. That he was able to come back and lead the league in rushing, let alone challenge the all-time record, is astounding.
Coincidentally, most of his off-season rehabilitation took place in Houston, where he is playing Sunday.
"I was on a mission," he said of his rehab. "I wasn't playing around. I really grinded hard this off-season in that Houston heat to get back. I had it in my mind from the moment I got out of surgery that I was going to be back and be good. It was really all about going through the process. It might sound crazy . . . but that was my mind-set."
Minnesota remains in contention for an NFC wild-card spot, but the Vikings cannot wrap up anything with a victory Sunday.
With a win, the Texans would clinch a first-round bye and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
The Atlanta Falcons clinched home field throughout the NFC playoffs when it defeated Detroit on Saturday night.
In the NFC East, the Giants, Redskins and Dallas Cowboys are tied atop the division at 8-6.
That division will not be decided until Week 17, although it's possible for the Redskins or Giants to clinch a playoff berth Sunday.
The Redskins would need a win at Philadelphia, and losses by the Giants, Vikings and Chicago, which plays at Arizona.
The Giants would need to beat the Ravens, and get losses by the Redskins, Bears, Vikings and Cowboys, who play host to New Orleans.
Giants defensive lineman Osi Umenyiora, whose team is coming off a 34-0 loss at Atlanta, said he and his teammates might have been lulled into a false sense of security because of their history of digging themselves out of late-season holes.
"No doubt about that part, and that might be a problem, because we all feel like 'OK, we've done this before, and we can do this again . . . we have the ability to challenge and we can always rise up,'" he said. "And then we put ourselves in this corner. Now we have to fight our way out of it."