The 2014 NFC Championship will mark the third time this season the San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks will clash.
The fact these two NFC West foes made it through to the conference title game is hardly a surprise. ESPN's Adam Schefter put it best:
NFC's two best teams made it to NFC Championship Game. San Francisco vs. Seattle. As it should be.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) January 12, 2014
In this instance, a rematch is the best thing that could have happened in the NFC. The 49ers and Seahawks split the season series, and the two games have given fans plenty to study during the long week of waiting leading up to the game.
Like the previous two meetings, individual performances will prove the deciding factor in which of these rivals heads home or to the Super Bowl.
Marshawn Lynch, RB, Seattle Seahawks
Marshawn Lynch is one of the NFL's few running backs who consistently find success against the San Francisco defense. Lynch is on a warpath as he carried the Seahawks through their divisional-round bout with the New Orleans Saints. ESPN captures his day best:
Marshawn Lynch rushed for 140 yards and 2 TDs Saturday. 108 of those yards came in between the tackles pic.twitter.com/UsRdSK0SXL— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) January 13, 2014
Yards will not come as easily against San Francisco, owners of the NFL's No. 4 overall rush defense that allows an average of 95.9 yards per game.
Back in Week 2, Lynch rumbled for 98 yards and two touchdowns in a 29-3 home win over the 49ers. But Lynch was less impressive more recently, a Week 14, 19-17 road loss to the 49ers where he gained 72 yards and a score.
Lynch may not get much in the way of help from his passing game for Round 3 (more on that later), so he needs another huge performance. He is a major reason the Seahawks have outscored the 49ers by a 71-16 margin in their last two meetings at CenturyLink Field.
If Lynch for some reason falters at home, the Seahawks will go down with him.
Michael Crabtree, WR, San Francisco 49ers
Quarterback Colin Kaepernick is going to need some serious help against the Seahawks. Kaepernick has been absolutely miserable against the Seahawks this season:
|Week 2 @ SEA||13/28||127||4.5||0||3|
|Week 14 vs. SEA||15/29||175||6.0||1||1|
That first meeting was without Michael Crabtree, who grabbed four passes for 40 yards in the second bout.
Crabtree will need to step up for the 49ers to win in Seattle. This is especially the case with Anquan Boldin essentially demanding all of the postseason attention as of late, as Bleacher Report's Ian Kenyon points out:
Anquan Boldin's last 6 playoff games... 33 receptions, 554 yards.— Ian Kenyon (@IanKenyonNFL) January 13, 2014
In the team's win over Carolina in the divisional round, Boldin caught eight passes for 136 yards. Crabtree managed just three catches for 26 yards.
Kaepernick needs an outlet to hit consistently, especially against an elite Seattle secondary. Crabtree's importance cannot be understated:
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
Since Michael Crabtree made his season debut in Week 13, Colin Kaepernick has the 3rd-highest Total QBR in the NFL (76.9).— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) January 8, 2014
In a hostile environment such as Seattle, Crabtree is above all else in terms of importance for the 49ers.
Russell Wilson, QB, Seattle Seahawks
When the Seahawks and 49ers meet, it is typically a no-fly zone. Kaepernick certainly has his struggles, but so does Russell Wilson—regardless of the venue:
|Week 2 vs. SF||8/19||142||7.5||1||1|
|Week 14 @ SF||15/25||199||8.0||1||1|
In fact, Wilson has been mediocre as of late, throwing for more than 200 yards just once in his last five games and recording no more than one passing touchdown in each. He threw for just 103 yards against the Saints in the divisional round.
Sports Illustrated's Don Banks explains why Wilson is giving the Seahawks the look of a vulnerable team:
Taking nothing away from Seattle's dominating defensive performance for most of the game, but that's not looking like a Super Bowl-ready offense in Seattle about now. ... Seattle had produced just 44 yards of offense in the second half until fewer than four minutes remained, and that lack of execution allowed the Saints to come dangerously close to stealing the game.
But I don't see the Seahawks getting past San Francisco if they don't threaten more than they did on Saturday. Don't think Russell Wilson completing just nine passes for a career-worst 103 yards, like he did against New Orleans, will cut it next Sunday.
One can even take a deeper dive, per ESPN's Mike Sando:
Russell @DangeRussWilson on 3rd down, last 5 games: 5.3 yards per pass att, 70.1 passer rating, 3 rush for 15 yards and 1 FD, 6.7 Total QBR— Mike Sando, ESPN.com (@SandoESPN) January 13, 2014
San Francisco surely knows to key on Lynch. Wilson's ability to extend plays with his feet and go up over the 49ers defense will ultimately decide the game.