It's hard not to get pumped up for the Seattle Seahawks hosting the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship, as these two rivals are set to clash with a berth in the Super Bowl on the line.
For the Niners, it's their third-straight conference championship. For the Seahawks, it's the opportunity to prove that they indeed are the NFC's best team after finishing with the conference's best record.
And for both teams, it's the chance to prove that they are the superior side in this heated rivalry. It doesn't get much better than this, folks—let's break it down.
When: Sunday, January 19, at 6:30 p.m. ET
Where: CenturyLink Field, Seattle, Wash.
Spread: Seattle (-3), according to Bovada
You can't talk about this game without first discussing Seattle's well-documented home-field advantage. The Seahawks are 16-1 in the last two seasons at CenturyLink Field, have beaten the Niners in four of the last five meetings in Seattle and have fans so boisterous, they've actually caused an earthquake during a playoff game.
And these teams really, really don't like one another. This might be the most passionate rivalry in the NFL at the moment, and both teams certainly feel that, as Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman said in a press conference (via Terry Blount of ESPN):
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.
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.
While there are plenty of differences between the Seahawks and Niners, both teams generally win the same way—by playing tough, physical defense, by pounding the ball in the running game and by getting big plays at key times from their young, mobile quarterbacks.
It seems likely that the team that gets better play from their quarterback—Colin Kaepernick for the Niners, Russell Wilson for the Seahawks—will win this game. That might be a bit reductive, but there isn't much to separate these teams.
The Niners finished the regular season third in rushing yards per game; the Seahawks were fourth. Seattle was first in yards and points allowed per game; San Francisco was fifth and third in those categories, respectfully.
The Niners have arguably the best linebacker corps in the NFL, led by Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman. The Seahawks have a ball-hawking secondary led by Sherman and safety Earl Thomas.
If either Kaepernick or Wilson struggles in this game, their team will have a hard time winning. Yards and, more importantly, points, are going to be hard to come by.
It's hard to pick against Seattle at home, especially in a game when so much seems to be so even between these teams. And for all of the talk about how hot the Niners are right now—they've won eight straight games—the Seahawks have won 10 of their last 12 and nearly beat the Niners in San Francisco, losing 19-17 in Week 14.
Which team wins?
If this game was in San Francisco, the Niners would be the pick. But in a knock-down, drag-out affair, the home-field advantage will be the deciding factor.
The Seahawks win, 20-17.