The San Francisco 49ers will travel to take on the Seattle Seahawks in another chapter of one of the best emerging rivalries in the NFL.
The two teams went 1-1 against each other during the regular season with both teams winning at home. But with a berth to the Super Bowl on the line, anything can happen between two of the best defenses and two of the most dynamic quarterbacks in the NFL.
Whether it's Colin Kaepernick and the 49ers receiving corps versus the Seahawks passing defense or Russell Wilson and Marshawn Lynch versus the 49ers rushing defense, this game has plenty of intrigue to it on both sides of the ball.
Then there's the fact that the game is being played in Seattle, home of the loudest crowd in the NFL, according to the Guinness World Records. Though San Francisco players try to downplay the affect that the fans have on the game, it's clear that it impacted them in Week 2 during a 29-3 loss.
Before these two teams battle it out for a chance to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl, here is a complete breakdown of the game and a final prediction.
NFC Championship Breakdown
What the 49ers do best is throw the ball and get Kaepernick and Frank Gore to eat away chunk yards with their running game. Ironically enough, the Seahawks are talented on both of those fronts and have shut down the 49ers offense in the two games they played this season.
Gore performed well against the Seahawks in the second matchup with 110 yards, but most of that yardage came on a 51-yard rush. In the first game of the year, Gore finished with just 16 yards rushing and was hardly a factor in the contest.
The lifeblood of the 49ers offense is Kaepernick. With talents as both a passer and rusher, the second-year quarterback has led San Francisco to two straight NFC Championship Games and is on the cusp of two straight Super Bowls.
But if there is a kryptonite to the 49ers' Superman, it's the Seahawks defense. In two games this season against Seattle, Kaepernick has thrown for a total of 302 passing yards and finished with just one touchdown and four total interceptions.
As NFL AM points out, Kaepernick has thrown for a considerable amount of his career interceptions against the Seahawks:
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
Even with Michael Crabtree back in the lineup against the Seahawks in Week 14, he was held to just four receptions for 40 yards as the second-leading receiver on the team. With Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas III and a secondary that has given the 49ers fits all season, it will once again be difficult for them to get anything going.
On the Seattle side, the offense runs through Wilson and Lynch, who have both been successful against San Francisco in the past.
In both games this season, Wilson finished with a mediocre one passing touchdown and one interception, but his numbers look a lot better than the ones Kaepernick posted.
But Wilson is clearly not playing his best football coming into the showdown for the NFC crown. In his last five games, Wilson has thrown just four touchdowns and three interceptions. The reason for the Seahawks success has clearly been their running game with Lynch.
When asked which player the 49ers need to stop, Donte Whitner told Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle that they had to force Wilson to be the hero.
"We have to take him away," Whitner said. "And make the quarterback beat us."
Despite their best efforts against Beast Mode, the 49ers have struggled to stop him, to say the least. According to ESPN, Lynch has over half of the individual 100-yard performances that San Francisco has given up over the last two seasons:
Individual 100-yard rushers allowed by the 49ers (last 3 seasons): Marshawn Lynch - 3. Everybody else - 2.— NFL on ESPN (@ESPNNFL) January 16, 2014
While that statistic says a lot about Lynch, it also proves that he is going against a stout rushing defense that can stop any opponent. In the last matchup, Lynch was held to just 72 rushing yards and a touchdown after going off for over 100 total yards and three touchdowns in the Week 2 meeting.
Though both teams are strikingly similar on defense and with dual-threat quarterbacks, this game will not be played on a level-playing field. The deciding factor in this one will come down to both Lynch and the crowd noise, with Seattle coming out on top yet again to earn a Super Bowl berth.
Prediction: Seahawks 20, 49ers 16
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