The next Biggest Game of the Year is coming up Sunday in Seattle. Let's open the 49ers Mailbag to see what's on the minds of readers . . .
How negatively will the defense be affected if Justin Smith can't play? (@jw49ers)
Ricky Jean Francois did just fine while filling in for Smith on Sunday night against the New England Patriots. But let's not forget that after Smith left the lineup, the Patriots -- after an interception -- scored touchdowns on drives of 73, 86, 66 and 92 yards.
Smith does not have the flashy stats, but don't let that mislead you. He is still the player on the 49ers that the opposition accounts for more than anyone else. He pushes the pocket in the passing game, and he keeps interior offensive linemen from getting to the second level to put bodies on NaVorro Bowman and Patrick Willis.
The specifics of Smith's left elbow injury are not known. But, clearly, this is something more serious than a bump or a bruise. After all, Smith's elbow injury kept the toughest, most-durable 49ers player on the sideline during a time that the team saw its four-touchdown lead slip away.
If Justin Smith doesn't play, do you think Aldon will be as effective? (@AndrewM49ers)
No. It's as simple as that. Without Justin Smith on the field, the Seahawks can place more focus on Aldon Smith, who can expect to see nothing but double-teams on Sunday night. Aldon Smith can still have a good game, but it'll be a lot more difficult.
Is there any chance Manningham plays Sunday night? (@branteboy49)
Mario Manningham has been practicing on a limited basis, and he looks a lot better. But he didn't even make the trip to Foxboro, Mass., last week. His availability for Sunday night is questionable.
Is Moss finally comfortable with his subtle playmaking role? No longer the center of attn even while the media thrust him there? @MiriYum
Who said Randy Moss wasn't comfortable in the first place? Early in the season he told me that he was having a great time with the 49ers. His teammates really seem to enjoy his company. He and Colin Kaepernick have developed a nice rapport, too. I haven't heard even a whisper of dissatisfaction with anything concerning Moss.
What are the chances David Akers is still on the roster come playoff time? (@GodsSonNasir)
The chances are very, very good. Have you seen Mason Crosby with the Green Bay Packers? His kicks look horrible, and the Packers have held onto him because they don't believe there's anyone better out there. Akers is striking the ball very well, but he's been missing. The 49ers have come this far, so I think they'll keep Akers around. The alternative is to bring in a veteran -- either Nate Kaeding or Billy Cundiff -- known for huge playoff failures.
NOTE: The Miami Dolphins signed Kaeding on Friday and placed kicker Dan Carpenter on injured reserve.