“Beast Mode” is back in Seattle as Marshawn Lynch returns Sunday to the Seahawks, who host the San Francisco 49ers in the final game of the NFL regular season with the NFC West division title on the line.
The 49ers can clinch home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs with a victory over Russell Wilson and the Seahawks.
If the 12-3 Niners falter, the Seahawks could gain home field advantage with a win and defeats for both Green Bay and New Orleans.
“Can’t wait for it,” 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo said of the loud, hostile environment of CenturyLink Field.
San Francisco arrive as favorites, not least because of the rash of injuries affecting Seattle that prompted the Seahawks to take a chance that 33-year-old running back Lynch can make an immediate impact even though he hasn’t played since midway through last season with Oakland.
“Only one person can pull this off and that’s No. 24,” linebacker K.J. Wright said of Lynch, who played for the Seahawks from 2010-15. “Back in the building, it feels good. When I heard the news I was like, ‘Perfect.'”
Seahawks quarterback Wilson said he was “super-excited” to welcome back Lynch, and added that to his eye “Beast Mode” hasn’t lost a step.
“He’s been working,” Wilson said. “He looks great, looks explosive, looks fast, looks strong as ever. He’s got some special things he can do.”
While the loser of the game will still make the playoffs as a wild card, Seattle coach Pete Carroll said the Seahawks were “thrilled” to find themselves playing for the division and a possible first-round bye.
“It’s the last week of the season, playing for everything, for a division and all that,” Carroll said. “It is what we aim for.”
Garoppolo admitted he was “kind of surprised” by the Seahawks decision to bring in Lynch and Robert Turbin after injuries to C.J. Prosise and Chris Carson.
“Guy is a hell of a player,” Garoppolo said. “He was unreal when he was playing. We’ll see what he’s got.”
The NFC West is one of two division titles still up for grabs as all 32 teams are in action on Sunday.
Five teams are in contention for two remaining playoff berths and six clubs have a shot at three remaining first-round byes.
The Green Bay Packers can clinch a first-round bye with a victory over the Detroit Lions — who have lost eight straight.
If the Packers win and San Francisco lose, Green Bay can also secure home field advantage.
The New Orleans Saints’ post-season schedule could also be affected by the outcome in Seattle.
Drew Brees and the Saints can secure home field advantage with a victory at Carolina and defeats or ties by either San Francisco or Green Bay.
The Philadelphia Eagles have the upper hand in the battle for the NFC East. They can lock it up with a victory over at the New York Giants.
The Eagles are riding a season-high three-game winning streak that includes their win last week over division rivals Dallas – who now must beat the Redskins and hope for Philadelphia to falter.
The Giants aren’t shy about their desire to play spoiler to the Eagles’ playoff aspirations.
“We are not going to the playoffs, so we definitely want to get this W and knock them out,” veteran safety Antoine Bethea said. “We don’t want anyone celebrating on our field.”
In the AFC, Tom Brady and the New England Patriots have clinched their 11th straight AFC East title, and can secure a first-round bye with a victory over the Miami Dolphins.
The playoff-bound Houston Texans host a Tennessee Titans team who can earn a playoff berth with a win.
The Baltimore Ravens, already assured of the top seed in the AFC, are expected to rest starters including quarterback Lamar Jackson when they take on the Pittsburgh Steelers – who are still in the chase for a playoff berth.