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Russell Wilson, Colin Kaepernick highlight NFC duel

Back in the lazy days of summer, the prospect of a late-season game between Russell Wilson and Colin Kaepernick would have sounded like a fight between two teams missing their top quarterbacks.

Instead, the Seattle Seahawks (9-5) and San Francisco 49ers (10-3-1) have found their guys.

Sunday night's NFC West duel between the two should look substantially different than the Week 7 showdown won 13-6 by the 49ers.

That was back in mid-October, when Wilson still wore training wheels in an offense that drew tight boundaries around the rookie. He's grown into an efficient and productive passer and the Seahawks aren't the same beast that squeezed out 251 yards against the 49ers two months ago.

"It all begins with the quarterback, obviously," Seahawks receiver Doug Baldwin told The Seattle Times. "Russell is playing at an extremely high level right now. It's just the maturity and growth, and we've all come to grow with him. This offense as a whole has been able to rally behind the things he does well. At the beginning of the season, we were kind of searching for that."

Said Seahawks fullback Michael Robinson: "He's better than he was when we played (the 49ers) on Oct. 18."

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Jim Harbaugh's switch to Kaepernick, meanwhile, has changed what San Francisco can do with the ball.

The benching of Alex Smith remains controversial -- he still ranks third in the NFL in passer rating -- but the 49ers believe Kaepernick gives the team a chance to throw the ball anywhere on the field. The second-year passer has encountered troubles with ball control, but he's also the guy who torched the Patriots for four touchdowns on Sunday night. His explosiveness out of the "pistol" and base offense is tangible.

This isn't the quarterback matchup we expected when the schedule came out, but we'll take it. There isn't a better game on the slate in Week 16.

Follow Marc Sessler on Twitter @MarcSesslerNFL.

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