It's no secret that the San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks have a strong dislike for one another, so you can be sure the upcoming NFC Championship Game will get chippy in a hurry.
But woe to the team that lets trash-talking get in the way of execution. The Carolina Panthers found that out firsthand in the divisional round, as the 49ers benefited from a few personal fouls and won the game.
This is just one of the keys to victory for both teams.
Which team will win?
The 49ers haven't fared well the past two trips up north to CenturyLink Field, losing by a combined score of 71-16. As professional athletes are wont to do, quarterback Colin Kaepernick recently dismissed the team's past struggles in Seattle.
"That's in the past," said Kaepernick via Al Saracevic of SFGate.com. "This is a different situation. We have to go out there and win it."
If San Francisco does win the game, it'll be the team's ninth win in a row and the second straight Super Bowl appearance. On the other side, the Seahawks haven't had any recent success following up an initial postseason victory with a second win, as ESPN Stats & Info details:
Last 4 times that Seahawks made playoffs, they won their 1st game then lost 2nd game each time. Can they get over the hump this weekend?— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) January 14, 2014
Here's what both teams must do to secure a berth in Super Bowl XLVIII.
49ers: Score Early and Silence the "12th Man"
Peter King of SI.com's MMQB published an outstanding piece by Tampa Bay quarterback Mike Glennon, who described the incredible noise that is generated at CenturyLink Field by the fans on game days:
I thought I had played in some loud atmospheres in college at N.C. State, but nothing could have prepared me for our Week 9 game against the Seahawks at CenturyLink Field. In most NFL stadiums when you’re on the road, it gets loud on third down and whenever you’re in the red zone. But in Seattle? It’s loud on every single down, no matter where you are on the field. It feels like there’s someone with a megaphone screaming in your ear. Only it seems more amplified than a megaphone.
San Francisco hasn't been able to shut that crowd up either of the last two times it went into "The Link."
In Week 2 of the regular season, the 49ers weren't able to score until midway through the third quarter—a field goal, which proved to be the only points of the game for the visiting team. And before the 49ers put any points on the board in Week 16 of the 2012 season, Seattle was already up 21-0.
Another poor start will prove fatal to the 49ers.
Thankfully for the 49ers fans, San Francisco has been getting off to hot starts the past five games, as Chris Biderman of Niners Digest details:
49ers have scored points on their first possession in each of their last five games, including their first 2 possessions in their last 3 gms— Chris Biderman (@ChrisBiderman) January 14, 2014
Seahawks: Force Kaepernick into an Early Mistake
Kaepernick was responsible for four turnovers (three interceptions and one lost fumble) the last time he played in Seattle. The entire game was a disaster for the third-year quarterback, who only managed 13 completions on 28 attempts for 127 passing yards.
It all started with an Earl Thomas interception. The 49ers had been chugging down the field on a nine-play drive in the first quarter—the game tied at 0-0—when Kaepernick made a poor decision deep in Seahawks territory to throw to Vernon Davis.
Which Kap will we see?
Instead of picking up a three-or seven-point lead, San Francisco spiraled down into a deep, dark pit in that game, and Seattle capitalized by putting a memorable 29-3 drubbing on its NFC West rival.
Kaepernick's numbers have been terrific during San Francisco's current eight-game winning streak, scoring 14 total touchdowns (12 passing, two rushing) while turning the ball over just twice. However, he's gotten lucky a few times the past two games, as Green Bay and Carolina failed to secure three potential interceptions.
Seattle is the best in the league at creating turnovers, and Kaepernick won't get away with those kinds of mistakes in this one.
49ers: Shut Down Marshawn Lynch
Marshawn Lynch doesn't care that the 49ers feature one of the league's best run-stuffing defenses. The past two times he's faced San Francisco at home, the Skittles-eating back has gone "Beast Mode" on the 49ers, totaling 265 yards and five touchdowns.
Lynch struggled a bit down the home stretch for the Seahawks, failing to eclipse 100 rushing yards in his last six games during the regular season. However, he still managed to score five touchdowns on the ground over that period.
He was also phenomenal in the divisional round against New Orleans, as ESPN Stats & Info illustrates. Pro Football Focus further elaborates on his stellar day, noting his 13 broken tackles:
Seahawks RB 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 14, 2014
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
Another huge game by Lynch would likely key a win for the Seahawks. San Francisco's defense is phenomenal in all phases, but even the best wear down when being beaten down by a relentless rushing attack.
Seahawks: Get Russell Wilson Going Early
Lately, it feels like the Seahawks have won games in spite of Russell Wilson's mediocre play.
The second-year quarterback hasn't been himself in five weeks, as Bleacher Report's Mike Freeman points out:
Russell Wilson hasn't looked like himself for a solid month. There are two main theories. First, he's secretly injured. Second, extensive film study has revealed weaknesses in his game that can be seriously exploited. I don't buy the first, but I'm starting to believe the second.
Since the Dec. 2 game against New Orleans in which he had over 300 yards passing and three touchdowns, Wilson has thrown for over 200 yards just once in five games. He had 108 yards passing against Arizona on Dec. 22 and 103 yards passing against the Saints in the playoff win. Something is clearly wrong.
San Francisco's defense enters the game on a hot streak after shutting out the Panthers during the second half of the divisional round. Cam Newton was sacked five times during the contest, and the 49ers forced him into two interceptions.
If Wilson struggles early in this contest, then you can expect 49ers defensive coordinator Vic Fangio to take a few gambles by blitzing the young signal-caller. If San Francisco's defense starts to smell blood, then the Seahawks could become the victims of an upset special at home.
Conversely, if Seahawks offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell gets his young quarterback going early with some quick-hitting timing patterns, then the Seahawks will be able to attack the 49ers with a balanced approach.
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