After an entire season as two of the most dominant teams in their conference, the Seattle Seahawks will play host to the NFC West-rival San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship Game.
The two teams went 1-1 against each other during the regular season with both teams winning at home. But with a berth to the Super Bowl on the line, anything can happen between two of the best defenses and two of the most dynamic quarterbacks in the NFL.
The Seahawks feature the best secondary in the league this season, while the 49ers have a front seven that has proven to be one of the best in the playoffs thus far. On the offensive side of the ball, the matchups are just as close with Russell Wilson and Marshawn Lynch against Colin Kaepernick and Frank Gore.
Before the two teams battle it out for a chance to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl, here is a breakdown of each position heading into the NFC Championship Game.
This is a position where you really can't go wrong with either, but Seattle comes into this matchup with the best statistical defense in the NFL.
While many teams would like to stay away from the 49ers offensive attack, Seahawks second-year linebacker Bobby Wagner told Clare Farnsworth of the team's official website who he'd like to face in the playoffs, “I’d really like to play the 49ers again.”
Wagner continued to talk about the matchup with Farnsworth following the 49ers advancing to the NFC Championship Game by saying:
They’ve got to come here. So they’ve got to worry about us. It’s great that we’ll be playing here. Our fans are great. When they come in they always bring a lot of energy and we feed off that energy. So the opposing team, they have to worry about that.
Feeding off that energy has served well for the No. 1 passing defense and No. 7 rushing defense in the NFL this season. The Seahawks also rank first in the NFL with turnovers (39) and interceptions (28), while the 49ers rank inside the top 10 in each of those categories as well.
The NFC West is becoming known for its outstanding defenses and the Seahawks are still the class of the division in that category.
Receiving Corps: 49ers
Not only has Crabtree been a huge boost to the offense since his return, he's helped Kaepernick re-emerge after a mediocre start to the season. According to ESPN Stats and Info, the fifth-year receiver has been a catalyst for his young quarterback's success in the playoffs:
Over the last 2 postseasons Kaepernick's Total QBR is 90.3 with Michael Crabtree ON the field. When he's OFF the field that number is 44.1— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) January 12, 2014
In San Francisco's win over the Carolina Panthers, Davis finished with a touchdown and Boldin amassed 136 receiving yards. Though Crabtree had only three receptions for 26 yards, his abilities have opened up the field for other receivers that simply weren't there before.
Ironically enough, the numbers posted against the Panthers were very similar to the final game between the 49ers and Seahawks. Boldin finished as the leading receiver with 93 yards, Crabtree had four receptions for 40 yards and Davis caught two passes, with one coming in the end zone.
Going against the top passing defense in the NFL will be a tall task for the 49ers receivers, but not one that they can't overcome.
Running Backs: Seahawks
The aforementioned matchup of Gore and Lynch is a tough one to decide. But after two great games against the 49ers this season and a dominant performance against the New Orleans Saints in the divisional round, Lynch comes in as the better of the two backs.
"Beast Mode" went off for 140 yards and two touchdowns against the Saints, but a statistic from Pro Football Focus shows why his dominance comes from being a physical runner:
Marshawn Lynch forced 13 missed tackles rushing vs the Saints. Every other RB put together this week combined for just 17.— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) January 13, 2014
Other than the fact that he's been one of the best tailbacks this season, Lynch has made a career out of killing the 49ers. Three of his four touchdowns in two games against San Francisco came at home, in the form of two rushing scores and an additional one through the air.
Here is a breakdown of how Lynch has performed against the 49ers in their last five matchups:
|Location (Date)||Rush Yds||YPC||Total TDs|
|Home (Dec. 24, 2011)||107||5.1||1|
|Road (Oct. 18, 2012)||103||5.4||0|
|Home (Dec. 23, 2012)||111||4.3||2|
|Home (Sept. 15, 2013)||98||3.5||3|
|Road (Dec. 8, 2013)||72||3.6||1|
While Gore has put together another good season, his average of 63 rushing yards and no touchdowns against the Seahawks simply doesn't match the dominance that Lynch has shown in this rivalry.
In a weekend where NFL fans will be witnesses to one of the final chapters between Peyton Manning and Tom Brady, they will also have the treat of watching one of the league's emerging rivalries between Wilson and Kaepernick.
Who Ya Got?
Wilson has the ability to both pass and run the ball with great efficiency. He has thrown for 26 touchdowns this season and has 555 rushing yards to boot. In just two seasons, he has posted a 16-1 record at home and has never lost to the 49ers in Seattle.
So why is Kaepernick the better quarterback coming into the NFC Championship Game? Simply put, his postseason performances just continue to thrill and have led the 49ers to the cusp of a second-straight Super Bowl berth.
When it comes to quarterbacks, the 49ers have had two of the best in NFL history. But in just two seasons, Kaepernick is already halfway to a record set by Steve Young, according to ESPN Stats and Info:
Colin Kaepernick is now halfway to the NFL record for most rushing TD by a QB in postseason career (Steve Young, 8)— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) January 12, 2014
In two games this postseason, Kaepernick has thrown for a combined 423 yards, rushed for 113 yards and posted three touchdowns with just one interception. While his three-interception performance against Seattle in the first game looms large, his second game against the Seahawks was good enough for more than 200 total yards and a win.
Coming into a matchup with the No. 1 passing defense and No. 7 rushing defense, Kaepernick's success will likely be the reason that the 49ers ultimately win or lose the NFC Championship Game.