Fortune favored the ethical on Sunday.
Instead of listening to this columnist and treating Week 18 like a bye week, deliberately falling to the No. 3 seed as to avoid a possible matchup with Aaron Rodgers, the 49ers played Sunday’s regular-season finale with the clear intention of winning.
They did, easily, earning the NFC’s No. 2 seed in the process.
Their reward: home-field advantage in the first two rounds of the playoffs and a first-round game not against red-hot Rodgers and the Packers (they lost their win-and-in game Sunday night), but instead the arch-rival Seahawks, who squeezed into the playoffs after the Packers’ loss.
Doing the right thing paid off for San Francisco. The Niners should roll over Seattle in their first-round playoff game on Saturday afternoon at Levi’s Stadium.
Heading into this Niners game against the Seahawks, you are certain to hear the old, tired NFL adage that the hardest thing to do in the league is beat a team three times in one season.
Folks will point to last season, when the 49ers failed to go 3-0 against the Rams by losing in the NFC Championship Game.
But the truth is that the adage is nonsense.
It’s actually easy to beat a team three times in one season if you’re a decidedly better team than your opponent. The Rams and the 49ers last year? Worthy adversaries.
The 49ers and Seahawks this year are not.
History doesn’t back up the adage, either. In the Super Bowl era, there have been 23 playoff games where teams meet for a third time after one team swept the regular-season series.
The team that swept in the regular season is 14-9 in those games.
The Niners will make that 15-9 on Saturday.
Again, they are so much better than the Seahawks.
The Niners have the best point differential in the league. They had the second-most takeaways and the league’s best turnover differential this season.
They have the hottest offense in the league, too, averaging 33 points per game since rookie Brock Purdy took over as the team’s quarterback six contests ago.
The Niners’ defense allowed the fewest points in the NFL this season and finished first in the NFL this season in DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average) — my go-to, catch-all stat for defense, which, where excellence is difficult to quantify.
No matter how you cut it, the Niners — winners of 10 straight games entering the playoffs — are an outstanding football team. If this squad has weaknesses, they are acute at best.
Meanwhile, the Seahawks are 3-5 in their last eight games.
Spare me the “any given Sunday” argument — or in this case, “any given Saturday.” That’s what folks say when there’s no good argument for a team to win.
And going into Saturday’s game, there is simply nothing that the Seahawks do better than the 49ers.
Even the quarterback situation has tilted toward the Niners.
Seahawks quarterback Geno Smith was a feel-good story for most of the season, helping Seattle to a 6-3 start with big games and limited turnovers. But over the last eight games, he has a QBR of 51.4 (out of 100) — a number that was middling as best.
Sunday, against a Rams team with nothing to play for and with everything on the line for Seattle, Smith threw two interceptions and nearly threw a third. He was more a detriment than a benefit to Seattle.
Smith can run a bit, but as the Niners’ two previous games showed, the Seattle quarterback is an easy target for San Francisco’s defensive line — only two quarterbacks in the league were more detrimental with their sacks to their team’s overall offensive output, per ESPN.
And while Brock Purdy is inexperienced, he has shown an exceptional command of the 49ers’ offense and is putting up top-flight efficiency numbers amid his small sample size.
Smith’s tremendous start to the campaign made Seattle a playoff threat. At the same time, no one expected Purdy would be starting a playoff game for the 49ers mid-season.
Yet as these two teams meet again, Purdy has provided every reason to take him and not the veteran in this game.
Oddsmakers like the 49ers to win the NFC. They like that journey to start with a 10-point win over the Seahawks.
I see no reason to bet against them.
Save your adages and your old cliches. These teams might be meeting in the playoffs, but they are not equals on the gridiron.