If the 49ers and Seahawks didn't dislike each other so much, they'd probably all be best friends.

OK, maybe not Jim Harbaugh and Pete Carroll, but otherwise ...

They're two teams built almost exactly alike, that play almost exactly alike, that are vying in the same division for the exactly the same rewards.

And -- when they're being honest -- that recognize and respect all these distinctive elements about each other.

"We're excited to go test ourselves," 49ers safety Donte Whitner said of Sunday's huge rematch with Seattle.

"We really believe that we're the mighty 49ers, and they believe that they're the mighty Seahawks. So we'll see who comes out on top.

"We're very confident; they're very confident -- two teams that are, you know, similar when you look at us."

Yes, so similar, and that is absolutely a compliment to both proud NFC West teams, though for the 49ers that has lately taken on a harsher edge.

Simply put, the 11-1 Seahawks are currently better at the things the 49ers pride themselves on -- physical, dynamic football -- than the 8-4 49ers are.

That's not just because Seattle has walloped the 49ers in the last two meetings, both in Seattle's deafening home stadium.

It's because the 49ers have tacitly acknowledged that they must improve the way they do things, or else Seattle will continue to be the conference's alpha team.


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This game isn't about the NFC West title or top-echelon seeding in the playoff race, because Seattle has already all but locked up both things.

No, it's about the 49ers resetting themselves to be good enough, tough enough and smart enough to play with the best, and -- though the 49ers won the NFC championship last season -- that's Seattle now.

This is a proof-of-title-plausibility game.

"With Seattle, the beauty of what they do is it's pretty simple and it's pretty consistent," 49ers offensive coordinator Greg Roman said.

"So, as far as (the 49ers offense) drawing up new plays, maybe a few. Maybe a few."

The 49ers have to make adjustments, not Seattle.

The 49ers have to make sure their quarterback, Colin Kaepernick, is up for this; while Seattle can be fairly certain that its quarterback, Russell Wilson, is born for this.

The 49ers have to figure out how to run the ball consistently on Seattle's defense; while Seattle believes Marshawn Lynch can do that on the 49ers, because he almost always has.

It's all spelled out, exactly the way the 49ers expect and hope. It's just that the 49ers have been worse at it than Seattle lately.

Defensively, it's as simple as can be, though certainly not easy.

"Stop the run," Whitner said. "Tackle 24 (Lynch), 22 (backup tailback Robert Turbin) and 3 (Wilson)."

That's why, for both sides, this isn't a chess match as much as it's an everlasting Cold War, complete with offseason one-upmanship and total focus on each other.

The 49ers' necessary theme: If a move isn't significant enough to make some kind of difference against Seattle, it might not be worth doing.

On this scale, the acquisition of Anquan Boldin was the 49ers' way of finding a receiver to push past Seattle's great press coverage (though it didn't work that way in Week 2 when Boldin had one catch for 7 yards).

Meanwhile, the Seahawks' signing of Cliff Avril was their way to give 49ers right tackle Anthony Davis a greater challenge off the edge.

And when Michael Crabtree made it back last week from tearing his Achilles, the 49ers (and probably the Seahawks) immediately recollected his essential 41-yard reception in Seattle two Decembers ago to set up the winning field goal.

"In all those games that we've won, and really when you see anybody that beats Seattle, I think one of the common threads is they're going to make some chunk plays against them," Roman said of "chunk" 20-yard gains or more.

"And whether it be in the run game or the pass game, that's a common thread of teams that have beaten Seattle."

So the 49ers understand that a slow-and-steady offensive approach probably won't cut it against Seattle and that they need big plays.

And the 49ers also appreciate that they need to be almost perfect on defense, to make sure the 49ers offense isn't given too large of a burden.

This is all possible, and I believe the 49ers will win this game because the urgency of the moment might be precisely what they need.

But they will have to play at full force for a full game, and the 49ers haven't done that against a top opponent all season.

It might as well come against Seattle, the team that must get knocked down a few pegs for the 49ers to rise back up.

For more, see Tim Kawakami's Talking Points at blogs.mercurynews.com/kawakami. Contact him at tkawakami@mercurynews.com. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/timkawakami.

SUNDAY'S GAME
Seattle (11-1)
at 49ers (8-4), 1:25 p.m. FOX

inside
A look at how 49ers and Seahawks match up. PAGE 5


SUNDAY'S GAME
Raiders (4-8) at N.Y. Jets (5-7), 10 a.m. CBS

INSIDE
Jets might be just the tonic for Raiders to end East Coast hex. page 4