Football is the epitome of a team sport, but a handful of matchups will prove to be more important than others when the Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers square off in the 2014 NFC Championship Game.
The NFC West rivals have faced each other twice this season, with both teams winning at home. Given their level of familiarity and strong defenses, this will likely be a close game that comes down to a few crucial plays.
In what is sure to be a competitive game, keep your eyes on the following matchups. Whoever wins these battles will likely propel their team to victory on Sunday.
Vernon Davis vs. Seahawks secondary
Vernon Davis had another spectacular season, finishing third in the NFL with 13 touchdown catches and leading all tight ends with an average of 16.3 yards per reception.
However, he's likely in for a nightmare against a Seattle defense that has made a habit of shutting down big-name tight ends.
Davis had just six catches in his last four games against Seattle. This season, he caught three passes for 20 yards in their first meeting and two passes for 21 yards in the rematch. That's not exactly the production you'd expect from an elite tight end.
Of course, one of his two catches in the December matchup was a touchdown, and it helped propel San Francisco to a 19-17 victory.
If Davis can cause some problems in the red zone on Sunday, the Niners will be in a great position. But if the Seahawks shut him down like they did Jimmy Graham last week (one catch for eight yards), Seattle will advance.
49ers O-Line vs. Seahawks D-Line
The noise at CenturyLink Field in Seattle is well-known, and the players most affected by the crowd are opposing offensive linemen.
Football is a game of milliseconds, and with linemen looking at the ball to see when it's snapped rather than listening to the quarterback's call, they are put in an uphill battle against the hard-charging defensive linemen of Seattle.
The Niners offensive line (Joe Staley, Mike Iupati, Jonathan Goodwin, Alex Boone and Anthony Davis) will need to play their best game of the season to contain the Seahawks front four. If they can keep the Seattle defense off of Colin Kaepernick, they will advance to their second consecutive Super Bowl.
But if Kaepernick is pressured throughout the game, look for the opportunistic Seahawks secondary to turn his rash decisions into turnovers.
Seattle's receivers vs. San Francisco secondary
The Seahawks passing game has struggled in recent weeks, with Russell Wilson averaging just 157.6 passing yards per game over his last five outings. And with no Sidney Rice or Percy Harvin this week, the pressure will be on Golden Tate, Doug Baldwin and the rest of the Seahawks receiving core.
Unfortunately, they will be facing one of the toughest secondaries in the league. San Fran ranked fifth in the NFL this season in receiving touchdowns allowed (19), and it's allowing just 15.5 points per game in the playoffs.
If Seattle is going to win on Sunday, it will need huge contributions from its receivers.