SAN FRANCISCO -- The 49ers have the Seattle Seahawks right where they want them: at Candlestick Park.

Blown out in their past two meetings at noisy Seattle, the 49ers (8-4) can prove the balance of NFC West power hasn't shifted so dramatically to their northern rivals.

Otherwise, the Seahawks (11-1) can end the 49ers' two-year reign as division champions with their first win in San Francisco since 2008.

"We've looked at every game like it's a championship opportunity for us," coach Pete Carroll said of his Seahawks, who are closing in on the NFC playoffs' No. 1 seed in their pursuit of a franchise-first Super Bowl title.

The 49ers are currently slotted as the No. 6 seed, and beating the Seahawks not only would strengthen a playoff bid but also serve as a signature win. It also would avenge a 29-3 loss at Seattle in Week 2.

"We didn't have all our weapons, we didn't have (Mario) Manningham or (Michael) Crabtree," tight end Vernon Davis said. "This game is a different story. Not only do we have them back, we have an opportunity to play the Seahawks in our home."

Here's a look at how these NFC powers match up in five phases:

1. When the 49ers pass

Quarterback Colin Kaepernick is coming off back-to-back strong games and looks happy to have back Crabtree, who basically was a decoy in his debut last Sunday against St. Louis other than for a 60-yard catch. The Seahawks are allowing the league's fewest passing yards per game (177.3), and they limited Anquan Boldin to just a 7-yard catch Sept. 15.


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In addition to the dominant secondary (see: Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor), the Seahawks pass rush will be a major factor. Left tackle Joe Staley is expected to play with a right-knee sprain, and right tackle Anthony Davis will be renewing a bitter rivalry with Cliff Avril, who has a team-high 7½ sacks since signing as a free agent out of Detroit.

2. When the 49ers run

Frank Gore is looking to break out of the worst three-game stretch (yardswise) since he became the starter in 2006. His understudies aren't faring any better, those being Kendall Hunter, Anthony Dixon and the rarely used LaMichael James. Gore had a season-low 1.8 yards per carry last game against Seattle (nine carries, 16 yards), but Kaepernick had his best rushing outing of the season that game (nine carries, 87 yards).

The Seahawks' run defense looked quite vulnerable just over a month ago, allowing back-to-back 200-yard rushing games to the Rams and Buccaneers. If the 49ers are to pull off such a rushing effort, they'll likely have to do so without left guard Mike Iupati, who might miss a third straight game with a left-knee sprain.

3. When the Seahawks pass

Wideout Percy Harvin won't play because of a still-nagging hip, but Russell Wilson has made due all season with a receiving corps led by Golden Tate, Doug Baldwin, Jermaine Kearse and tight end Zach Miller. Wilson's ability to elude the pass rush is of utmost concern for the 49ers defensive front, which looks back to full strength with Justin Smith's bull rushes, Aldon Smith's re-emergence and Ahmad Brooks' stellar season.

Wilson (22 touchdowns, six interceptions) strikes well in the seams and deep down field, but he's also dangerous checking the ball down to running back Marshawn Lynch, whose 27 receptions are tied for the team's third-most. Wilson has never passed for 200 yard against the 49ers in three career meetings, and his career-worst passer rating of 38.7 came in last season's visit to Candlestick, a 122-yard, one-interception effort in the 49ers' 13-6 win.

4. When the Seahawks run

Wilson wasn't just being humble this past week in deflecting NFL MVP talk from him to Lynch. Seattle's All-Pro running back has run for 970 yards and nine touchdowns, and even though he's gained only 99 yards in the past two games combined, the 49ers know his tackle-breaking capabilities. Robert Turbin has relieved Lynch more the past month, and he averaged 5.2 yards per carry in Week 2 against the 49ers.

The 49ers will be on "high alert" for chop blocks such as the one right guard J.R. Sweezy used to break Ian Williams' ankle in Week 2.

5. When special teams collide

No stat jumps out more than this: The Seahawks have allowed only 15 punt-return yards all season. But opponents have attempted only 12 returns. The 49ers' James credits that to Jon Ryan's rugby-style punts that often land short of returners or pin teams deep near their goal lines. James has had mixed results as a returner the last month, and he's had to recover a muffed punt each of the past two games.

The 49ers' Phil Dawson hasn't been needed yet to make a winning field goal, but he enters this game having made his past 16 attempts. This rivalry has seen its share of key special-teams plays: Craig Dahl blocked a Seahawks punt last game, Sherman had a 90-yard touchdown return of a blocked field-goal attempt last December, and Ted Ginn Jr. scored twice on fourth-quarter returns in the 2011 opener.

For more on the 49ers, see Cam Inman's Hot Read blog at blogs.mercurynews.com/49ers. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/CamInman.

Running backs Frank Gore, top left, of the 49ers and Marshawn Lynch, top right, of the Seahawks have encountered tough sledding on the ground of late. QBs Colin Kaepernick, bottom left, of the 49ers and Russell Wilson of Seattle face tall orders against top defenses Sunday.