The Seattle Seahawks will play host to the San Francisco 49ers in what has become the best rivalry in the NFL. After both teams battled it out and split their two matchups during the regular season, the 49ers will now have to return to the site of their most lopsided loss of the season.
Despite the fact that Seattle's win came back in Week 2, it is still a notable one when looking at the two defenses. But when talking about the two offenses, much has changed since that first matchup.
After crushing the Carolina Panthers in the Divisional Round, the 49ers come in with both a stout defensive effort and a second straight 23-point offensive performance. Thanks to Colin Kaepernick leading the way with a passing and a rushing touchdown, San Francisco continued on for a chance to earn a second Super Bowl berth in two years.
For the Seahawks, a bruising defense and running game clinched their first NFC Championship Game berth since 2005. Marshawn Lynch overwhelmed the New Orleans Saints defense, and he will look to do the same against San Francisco on Sunday.
Before the game officially begins, here is everything fans need to know for the final game played between NFC opponents this season. And I will analyze why the Seahawks will eventually make it back to the second Super Bowl in team history.
Date: Sunday, Jan. 19
Where: CenturyLink Field, Seattle, Wa.
Start Time: 6:30 p.m. ET
TV Broadcast: Fox
Live Stream: Fox Sports Go
Spread: Seahawks (-3) (According to Bovada)
Breakdown of NFC Championship
Here's what we know: Both the Seahawks and 49ers have physically imposing defenses that are relentless both against the run and the pass. When talking about the 49ers in a press conference on Wednesday, Richard Sherman spoke about the rivalry, according to Ryan Divish of The Seattle Times:
I don’t hate anybody, I don’t think hate would be a word, but passion definitely. There will be some passion. There will be some dislike, some strong dislike. But there’ll be some intensity—it’s playoff football. So even if we weren’t two teams that were very familiar with each other, it’s playoff football. There’s going to be a lot of intensity and chippiness. It’s going to be a hardfought game.
With both teams' defense ranking inside the top seven in the NFL—Seattle ranking a little better against the pass, San Francisco a little better against the rush—the game will come down to which offense can crack the code.
Who ya got?
There's no perfect science when looking at why one team will ultimately beat another. But when projecting how two offenses will perform in what promises to be a tough defensive battle, the first place to look is always the quarterback.
By now, it is no secret that quarterback Russell Wilson is slumping. The same signal-caller who was seen as the savior for the Seahawks is now viewed as a weakness after throwing just four touchdowns and three interceptions over his last five games—including no touchdowns in the divisional round.
As Larry Stone of The Seattle Times puts it, turning Wilson loose might be the best way for the Seahawks to jump-start their offense in this crucial contest:
And quarterback Russell Wilson making it all purr, not necessarily with swashbuckling bravado, but rather prudent decision-making and, above all else, an overriding focus on keeping the ball out of the other team’s hands.
[...] A sharp, accurate Wilson will be essential for the Seahawks on Sunday. And a less restricted quarterback armed with a more aggressive game plan wouldn’t hurt, either.
While the reins on Wilson may still be tight, what the second-year QB does offer is a cool head perfect for a team facing a situation that it's never experienced. He's shown himself not to be easily fazed by any situation, while exhibiting the workman-like attitude that has helped him win 16 games at home thus far in his two seasons.
In both regular-season games this year against the 49ers, Wilson finished with less than 200 yards passing and one touchdown.
So how exactly did the Seahawks score? Oh yeah, a guy that goes by the name of Beast Mode:
The same man who has crushed the 49ers in his career—he has 207 yards and three total touchdowns this year against them in two games—appears to be at the top of his game after a 140-yard, two-touchdown game against the Saints last week.
With a hot Lynch facing a defense that he's had success against, even a less-than-aggressive Wilson will be able to lead his team on Sunday.
But on the other side of the ball stands Kaepernick and a healthy receiving corps of Vernon Davis, Michael Crabtree and Anquan Boldin all ready to go. So if they have such a lethal receiving corps, why did the 49ers score only 19 points against the Seahawks in their final meeting?
Though he's been great at times in the playoffs thus far in his young career, Kaepernick has struggled in the regular season against Seattle. The second-year quarterback has not been able to minimize turnovers against the Seahawks, as NFL AM notes:
Colin Kaepernick has started 3 games against the Seahawks. He has thrown over 1/3 of his career interceptions - 5 of 14 - against Seattle.— NFL AM (@NFL_AM) January 15, 2014
In the two games they played against the Seahawks this season, the 49ers had a total of six turnovers—five of which came in the Week 2 loss in Seattle. But the secret to those turnovers might have been the pressure that the Seahawks were able to apply in the first meeting, as ESPN Stats and Info tweets:
Colin Kaepernick: Pressured on 37 pct of dropbacks in Week 2 loss vs Seahawks (his highest of season). 23 pct in Week 14 win vs Seahawks.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) January 16, 2014
With extra pressure by the front seven and a ball-hawking secondary—pun intended—the Seahawks will do enough on Sunday to earn their second Super Bowl berth in team history.
Prediction: Seahawks 20, 49ers 16
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