Saturday, January 18, 2014

NFC Championship Preview: 49ers at Seahawks

      Before the regular season even started, it seemed as though the San Francisco 49ers and the Seattle Seahawks were destined to play each other in the playoffs . The Seahawks-49ers rivalry has quickly transformed into the best rivalry in the league, and this matchup in the NFC Championship Game will only add to the history of this rivalry. Back in 2009, Jim Harbaugh, a coach at Stanford, ran up the score against Pete Carroll's USC team, and the Harbaugh-Carroll rivalry was born. The rivalry has carried over into the NFL now that both Jim Harbaugh and Pete Carroll work for two NFL teams within the NFC West. This season, the series between these two teams is tied at one game a piece; however, the last two times San Francisco played in Seattle, the Seahawks outscored the 49ers by a total score of 71-16. The 12th Man at CenturyLink Field may be blown out of proportion at times, but there is no disputing that Seattle's fans are capable of influencing a game with their deafening noise.

San Francisco 49ers: The San Francisco 49ers are one of the most streaky teams in all of football; when they're hot, they can go on 5 game winning streaks, where not even the best teams can knock them down. But when they're cold, the 49ers can lose two or three straight by 10 points or more. Luckily for San Francisco fans, the 49ers have won eight straight games, including two playoff wins over the Packers and Panthers. San Francisco's consistency relies heavily on quarterback Colin Kaepernick, where the 49ers are 13-0 when Kaepernick throws for more than 150 yards. Alongside Kaepernick is a talented group of running backs, led by 9-year veteran Frank Gore (1,128 yards and 9 touchdowns), as well as youthful backs like LaMichael James and and Anthony Dixon. Four offensive players from the 49ers were added to the Pro Bowl roster, where two came from the offensive line. Even though the offensive line is considered to be one of the best in the league, they will have their hand's full against Seattle's front-seven. On defense, San Fran's stars like Justin Smith, Aldon Smith, Patrick Willis, NaVorro Bowman, and Ahmad Brooks makeup the best front-seven in all of football. The 49ers ranked third in the league in points allowed, fifth in rushing yards allowed, and fourth in opposing passer rating. Similarly to San Francisco, Seattle has an incredibly well-rounded offense, but as long as they are able to shut down wide receiver Golden Tate, Seattle's passing game will struggle to create any sort of consistency.

Seattle Seahawks: When playing at home, the Seattle Seahawks are clearly the best team in all of football. A trip to New Jersey for the Super Bowl would be a different story, but as long as the Seahawks are in Seattle, they are nearly unstoppable. With just one loss at home since December of 2011, the Seahawks are capable of beating any time in the NFL, which they have proven time and time again. In Seattle's last two meetings against San Francisco at CenturyLink Field, the Seahawks have one both times, one by a score of 29-3, the other by a score of 42-13. On offense, second-year quarterback Russell Wilson threw for 3,357 passing yards 26 touchdowns this season, and a passer rating of 101.2; however, Seattle remains a run-oriented team. This season, running back Marshawn Lynch rushed for 1,2457 yards and 12 touchdowns, where Seattle ranked fourth in the league in rushing yards per game. Seattle will be missing wide receiver Percy Harvin for Sunday's game, but since Harvin caught just one pass during the regular season, the Seahawks' offense should not be too worried. Seattle's front seven does a great job of applying pressure (rank 8th in the league in sacks), but the Hawks are known for their deadly defensive backs. Cornerback Richard Sherman, as well as safeties Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor, were all named to the Pro Bowl for their spectacular play in 2013, allowing Seattle to rank first in the league in interceptions. As a whole, the Seahawks rank first in total defense, first in pass defense, and first points allowed per game. This defense is nothing to mess around with, and despite San Francisco's talent on offense, Seattle's defense will best the Niners on Sunday.

Prediction: The San Francisco 49ers have had trouble with Seattle when the game is being played at CenturyLink Field, and with so much on the line, you know Seattle's 12th man will be deafening in the final home game of the season for the Hawks. Thanks to their consistent offense and stifling defense, we predict the Seahawks to win and advance to the Super Bowl.
Seahawks over 49ers 33-23

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