NFL Playoffs

NFC Championship Game 2014: Biggest Question Marks Ahead of Seahawks vs. 49ers

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - DECEMBER 08:  Running back Frank Gore #21 of the San Francisco 49ers carries the ball for eight yards to the eight yard line to set up a touchdown on the next play before getting tackled by defensive tackle Clinton McDonald #69 of the Seattle Seahawks in the second quarter on December 8, 2013 at Candlestick Park in San Francisco, California.  The 49ers won 19-17.  (Photo by Brian Bahr/Getty Images)
Brian Bahr/Getty Images
Joseph ZuckerFeatured ColumnistJanuary 16, 2014

Plenty of questions surround both the San Francisco 49ers and the Seattle Seahawks heading into the NFC Championship Game.

When the postseason began, this is the matchup everybody wanted to see, as these two have had some great back-and-forth games over the past couple of seasons. What the game will lack in points, it will more than make up for with physical, smashmouth football you love to see in the playoffs.

The winner will be the one with the right answers to the following three questions.

 

Can the 49ers Win in Seattle?

SEATTLE, WA - JANUARY 11:  Linebacker Heath Farwell #55 of the Seattle Seahawks runs out of the tunnel with the 12th Man flag before taking on the New Orleans Saints during the NFC Divisional Playoff Game at CenturyLink Field on January 11, 2014 in Seattl
Harry How/Getty Images

This has been the biggest question about the 49ers ever since it became apparent the Seahawks would be at home in the playoffs. The road to the Super Bowl would go through CenturyLink Field, so could San Francisco win in Seattle?

Much has been made about how the Seahawks are restricting tickets to fans only in certain states. It's a shrewd move to try and ensure as strong a home-field advantage as possible.

Even 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh admires what Seattle has done, per CBSSports.com's John Breech:

"Well, it's within the rules. It's within the spirit of the rules of the National Football League," Harbaugh said. "I actually respect it, what you're trying to do for your team, put them in the best possible position to win that you can. And I respect that their organization does that for their team. They do that in a lot of ways, with their team, with their fans, with their organization. So, what do I think of it? I respect it."

CenturyLink Field hasn't been kind to the 49ers in the last couple of years. San Francisco made the trip to Seattle in Week 2, and it lost 29-3. It was a similar result last year, when the Niners were defeated 42-13.

The Seahawks have made good teams look pedestrian when playing at home, and the 49ers will need a strong performance so they don't become the next in line.

 

Which Game Manager is the Game Managing-est?

December 8, 2013; San Francisco, CA, USA; San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick (7) shakes hands with Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson (3) after the game at Candlestick Park. The 49ers defeated the Seahawks 19-17. Mandatory Credit: K
Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

It seems too often that when a quarterback is described as a "game manager," it's supposed to be taken as a statement of offense, making the argument that if you don't throw for 4,000-plus yards in a season you're not worthy of being a starting QB in the NFL.

But there's something to be said for a quarterback who doesn't make mistakes, works the clock and moves the chains.

Neither Russell Wilson nor Colin Kaepernick have gaudy stats, but they've led their teams to the NFC Championship, and one year ago, Kaepernick had the 49ers heading to the Super Bowl. So there isn't any debate to be had as to whether they're good enough to get their teams to the promised land.

While the two aren't carbon copies of one another, they largely serve the same role in their team's offense. They let the running game shoulder a heavy load and use shorter throws to matriculate the ball down the field.

NFL on ESPN had a look at the performance for both QBs in the playoffs.

When it comes to Sunday, the only passing stat that will matter is interceptions. The biggest key for Kaepernick and Wilson will be avoiding turnovers. Throwing for 300 yards and a couple of touchdowns doesn't matter if you also have a couple of picks that gift the opposing team great field position and kill your team's momentum.

 

Can the 49ers Defense Stifle Marshawn Lynch?

SEATTLE, WA - DECEMBER 29:  Head coach Pete Carroll of the Seattle Seahawks talks with running back Marshawn Lynch #24 during the game against the St. Louis Rams at CenturyLink Field on December 29, 2013 in Seattle, Washington.  (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/G
Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

Although Wilson is a very good quarterback, the more he's forced to spark the Seahawks offense, the better that is for the 49ers. San Francisco should want to put the game in the hands of Wilson and make the second-year QB win the game.

It's obviously a troublesome solution, yet still better than letting Marshawn Lynch run rampant.

Lynch has been such a workhorse during the playoffs. The growth of the "Beast Mode" mystique has come about almost exclusively as a result of his performance against the Saints in 2010. Without that historic run, the 27-year-old is just another really good running back.

In order for the 49ers to prevail, they'll have to keep the beast in the cage. Since he arrived in Seattle in 2010, the Seahawks' performance in the postseason is directly correlated to Lynch's. He's got 403 yards and four touchdowns in the team's three wins and 48 yards and one touchdown in its two losses.

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