The San Francisco 49ers host the Seattle Seahawks Thursday night in a pivotal NFC West matchup.
But with the Rams having lost two in a row, and the Cardinals struggling, I think it's safe to say that the winner of the NFC West will be playing on Thursday night.
Will it be the Seahawks, led by the steady play of rookie Russell Wilson? Or can the 49ers duplicate last season's effort and run away with the division?
The stakes are much higher than simply reaching five wins. The winner of this game will ultimately be the team that takes the division crown.
Here are three reasons as to why that's the case, and why if you're a fan of either team, Thursday night is your regular-season Super Bowl.
I should probably preface this segment by noting that if the Rams win their game Sunday, they'll be tied for the lead in the division with either the 49ers or the Seahawks. But the Rams play the Green Bay Packers and then the New England Patriots, and I'll be shocked if they have a record better than .500 in two weeks' time.
Therefore, assuming St. Louis drops out of the race (no offense, Rams fans, but the offense is struggling, and I fail to see more than three or four more wins for them), the winner of the contest on Thursday night will take control of the division.
Sure, it's just a one-game lead, but it's also a head-to-head win. And football doesn't allow for teams to make up ground like baseball does. With just nine games left after this one, a one-game lead is bigger than it sounds.
Of course, San Francisco will make a trip to Seattle in December. The NFC West picture could be clear as day by then or it could be murkier than a Louisiana swamp. But I think this game will set the tone for the rest of the season.
A lead in the division after two weeks means very little, but a lead after seven weeks is a different story. If the 49ers can come up with a victory, they may clamp down on first place like they did last season and not look back.
But the Seahawks are well aware of what the Giants were able to do in the Bay Area this past Sunday. Can they come up with a similar effort?
The Seattle Seahawks haven't exactly been lighting up the scoreboards this season. And while the 49ers have scored 30 points or more on three different occasions, they've also posted an average of just eight points in their two losses.
Both teams can run the ball well, but neither passing attack has found consistency. Russell Wilson is still getting his feet wet, and Alex Smith appears to be somewhat timid in trying out his new offensive weapons.
Conversely, the defenses have been terrific. Seattle held the mighty Patriots to just 23 points last Sunday and the Packers to just 12 earlier in the season.
While Thursday night may feature a defensive battle, one of the offenses is going to have to step up at some point. And the one that does can move forward knowing that it had success against one of the better defenses in the league.
Whichever offense can sustain multiple drives ending in touchdowns will likely be the offense of the winning team. And it's this same offense that will lead the team to the NFC West crown.
The Niners entered the 2012 season as one of the favorites to win the NFC. They certainly weren't expected to get challenged in their own division.
But six weeks in they find themselves in a dogfight with the Seahawks. There's a lot of football left, but this game could send the two teams in very opposite directions.
Consider each team's position coming into the game. The 49ers looked sharp throughout the first five weeks other than a hiccup against an improved Minnesota Vikings team. But they were flat-out embarrassed last weekend.
The Seahawks, on the other hand, opened with a loss at Arizona and have played very average football. But it's no longer fair to dismiss them after Sunday's win over the Pats. They are brimming with confidence.
If the 49ers should win, they'll be able to put the Giants game behind them and move forward, still very much a favorite in the NFC. A loss would result in self-doubt and questions around the league about whether this team has what it takes.
For the Seahawks, a win would send a message to the rest of the NFL that they are for real and that a rookie QB will not hold them back. A loss would make it clear that the 49ers are still the class of the division.
Needless to say, Thursday night is a big one.