At the moment, this is the best rivalry in the NFL, so it’s quite fitting that the San Francisco 49ers and the Seattle Seahawks meet for the third time this season in the NFC Championship Game.
The differences (and likeness) in quarterbacks, in systems. Jim Harbaugh doesn’t like Pete Carroll and it goes the other way as well. Richard Sherman doesn’t like Harbaugh, who was his head coach in college. No one likes Colin Kaepernick. The running game. The front sevens. The defense. Two teams very much alike, playing in the same division, in the biggest game between them, with the highest stakes at least, since this rivalry became a ‘thing.’
The 49ers had the upper hand in the previous game: A close, 19-17 win in December 8, as Phil Dawson scored a field goal with 26 seconds left to win the game. Colin Kaepernick once again had a bad game against the Seahawks but it didn’t matter. Russell Wilson was slightly better but not by much. Both of them struggle against the 4-man pass rush that both teams love to use, usually handling themselves better thanks to their running ability when it’s a 5-man or more blitz coming at them.
For those trying to read the signs, it’s confusing. The 49ers have lost during the regular season, especially early on, to physical teams, who Colin Kaepernick to show his problems in the passing game. The Colts, the Panthers, the Saints in New Orleans, the Seahawks. The 49ers lost only one game this season by one more than one possession, which was the 29-3 drubbing when they visited Seattle. It’s hard to decide if it was better or worse than losing last season there by 29 points (42-13). But the 49ers have changed since then, finishing the season with six consecutive wins, before throwing in their two road victories in Carolina and Green Bay this postseason.
Does Michael Crabtree make that much of a difference? He has 30 receptions for 435 yards with a TD in seven contests — including playoffs — since making his season debut Dec. 1 after an Achilles injury. Since his return Kaepernick has thrown only 2 interceptions in 7 games, compared to 7 until December 1, including 3 in that loss against the Seahawks.
Seattle rely on their running game with Marshawn Lynch, the 49ers on Frank Gore and their massive frontline. The Seahawks trust their secondary to take away Boldin, Vernon Davis and Crabtree out by simply being very physical with them. The 49ers have their front seven, and especially Justin Smith, Patrick Willis and Navorro Bowman as their go-to guys on defense. Which unit comes out on top?
Prediction – Even though the 49ers have shown they’ve gotten over some of their road-game jitters in these playoffs, playing against Seattle is different. Not just for the mental factor due to previous results, but there’s obviously something that bothers them about the Seahawks in Seattle. Football games are often decided by who gets to be more physical, as simplistic as that sounds. In this venue, with its recent history, the Seahawks have the edge.