Heavyweight NFC Championship May Leave Winner Worse for Wear Entering Super Bowl

Sean ODonnellContributor IIIJanuary 16, 2014

Here we go. The Seattle Seahawks are set to take on the visiting division rival San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship. There is no love lost between these two hard-hitting, smash-mouth teams, and that will show when they face off this Sunday.

On the positive side of things, this may be one of the most entertaining football games we will witness in the 2013-14 season. However, on the flip side, the victor of this contest may be a little worse for the wear heading into the Super Bowl.

The hatred between these teams is well known and this game will be a knock-down, drag-out fight to the finish. This war of attrition will be a test of fortitude for each team involved. Both the mental and physical aspects of these players will be heavily tested in the NFC Championship.

Whoever comes out on top will surely need the full two weeks of rest before the Super Bowl is played on Sunday, Feb. 2.

Defense has played a huge part in this rivalry of late. Both of these teams are equipped with some of the league's most stout defensive units, as Seattle and San Francisco ranked first and fifth in the league over the regular season, respectively.

Of course, both teams did not stop there, as they continue to improve upon their defensive schemes well into the playoffs:

In those defenses are highly respected, yet very competitive players who are not afraid to speak their minds and get physical when it comes to their opponents. A fine example of this was on display during the Divisional Round of the playoffs when Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman had strong words with New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham before the game:

If Sherman is getting that excited over a contest against a non-divisional foe, imagine just how intense he will become before his showdown with the 49ers.

Actually, Sherman has already made it clear what the impending game is to bring, according to an interview with Terry Blount of ESPN.com:

There's no love lost and there's no love found. I don't know if there's going to be handshakes after this one. It's going to be intense and it's going to be physical.

Sherman continued:

I don't hate anyone. But passion, definitely. There'll be dislike, strong dislike. It's playoff football, so there'll be a lot of intensity, anyway, even if we weren't two teams very familiar with each other. But there's going to be a lot of chippiness in a hard-fought game. The two best teams in the NFC are the ones that are here.

Head coach Pete Carroll has a more simplistic view of this rivalry, according to the Seahawks' official Twitter account:

49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh thinks his team is up for the challenge, according to an interview with Matt Kawahara of The Sacramento Bee:

I think our team's been in a lot of good primers. Been through tough environments, whether it be weather or opposing stadiums. Been everywhere, man. Just like the Johnny Cash song. 'We've been everywhere, man.'

However, Harbaugh still knows what kind of intensity both teams will bring to this game:

It's not only Harbaugh who is sounding off for the 49ers. After their victory against the Carolina Panthers in the Divisional Round, several members of the team delivered statements regarding the upcoming NFC Championship versus the Seahawks.

Patrick Willis: "We know it’s going to be a dogfight. But we’re built for this. Hopefully we can go win the game that means the most. We look forward to it."

Donte Whitner: "They don’t like us, and we don’t like them. We know we have to go up there, into a hostile environment."

NaVorro Bowman: "They know us. We know them. Everything is on the line. That says it all."

It's pretty easy to speculate the kind of aggressive action that will be taking place when these teams face off on Sunday. This rivalry has been full of vicious moments for years. An example of this is Kam Chancellor's hit on Vernon Davis in 2012:

This hard-nosed defensive style that both of these teams bring makes it very difficult for either offense to flourish. Both Russell Wilson and Colin Kaepernick have struggled when they faced off earlier this season:

Seahawks vs. 49ers: Quarterback Comparison
QuarterbackWeekComp %Pass YardsTDsINTsRating

The numbers that these quarterbacks were able to deliver in this series were far below their season averages—defense generally reigns supreme when these teams meet.

Quarterbacks are not the only offensive players who struggle in this rivalry. Running backs have found limited success as well. Aside from one fine performance from Frank Gore late in the season, both he and Marshawn Lynch have found yards tough to come by:

Seahawks vs. 49ers: Running Back Comparison
Running BackWeekAttemptsYardsYPCTDs

Despite Gore's 110-yard performance in Week 14, he has yet to find the end zone this season against the Seahawks. Lynch, on the other hand, has been able to cross the goal line on three occasions.

Still, even with these numbers in mind, it's very difficult to determine who will have the upper hand when these two teams clash on Sunday.

After all, it all comes down to defense:

By the Numbers: Seahawks D vs. 49ers D in 2013

When comparing this ensuing dogfight to the AFC Championship featuring the Denver Broncos and New England Patriots, one thing stands out: While the NFC teams concentrate on playing physical defense, their AFC counterparts are more offensive oriented.

Although the Broncos and Patriots will surely play a very physical football game, it is very easy to speculate that they will not have to endure the brutal slugfest of these NFC powerhouses.

This leaves the 49ers and Seahawks with a relative disadvantage in the Super Bowl. Even though Sunday's victorious teams are awarded a much-needed bye week, the AFC teams should be heading into the break rather unscathed.

There will be plenty of rehabilitation in front of whichever NFC team advances to the Super Bowl. The health of every player will be as important as ever when facing the high-flying offenses of either the Patriots or Broncos.

After the Seahawks and 49ers finish what should be a very epic battle on Sunday, they will surely be playing catchup to their AFC opponent.

Why is this?

Both of these NFC teams are likely to come away from Sunday's contest completely battered and bruised. It is very plausible that players on both sides of the ball will be entering the Super Bowl less than 100 percent—even after an extra week off.

That's just how physical this matchup is set to be.

With so much to endure, the NFC representative in the big dance will have to play through this pain in the first cold-weather Super Bowl in years. The NFC Championship is only the beginning of the struggle for these heavyweights.


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