NFC Championship: San Francisco 49ers @ Seattle Seahawks
When: Sunday, January 19th at 3:30 pm PT
Where: Century Link Field in Seattle, Washington
TV: FOX (National)
Northern & Central California: KTVU 2 San Francisco; KTXL 40 Sacramento; KMPH 26 Fresno; KCVU 20 Chico-Redding; KBVU 28 Eureka; KBFX 58 Bakersfield
Pacific Northwest: KCPQ 13 Seattle; KAYU 28 Spokane; KCYU 41 Yakima; KPTV 12 Portland, Ore.
Announcers: Joe Buck, Troy Aikman
This Is It- The San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks are two franchises who over the last few seasons have grown into such bitter rivals that they have officially become arch rivals. There is no love loss whatsoever as these two teams will meet for the third and final time in the 2013-14 NFL Season, this time in the NFC Championship game. The two teams have split the season series this season with Seattle getting a convincing 29-3 win over the 49ers win Week 2. The 49ers defeated the Seahawks at Candlestick Park in Week 14 by a 19-17 score in a game that was close throughout and decided by a Phil Dawson field goal in the final 29 seconds of the contest. The 49ers last two trips to Century Link field have not gone well to say the very least. The Seahawks have outscored the 49ers 71-16 in the last two meetings in Seattle in games that just weren’t remotely close. The 49ers have not only a very daunting challenge ahead of them this Sunday, but also face what you can call an ultimate team litmus test in trying to win in the toughest environment in the NFL. The Seahawks franchise has come a long ways since the days of the Kingdome and today have a look of a team that can be dominant for years to come. Seattle has very few if any weaknesses to speak of and are a team that is united in one goal, bring a championship to a city that has not witnessed a professional sports championship in almost 35 years (the NBA's Seattle Sonics in 1978-79). However the 49ers have played very strong football as of late and have been in playoff mode for some time. The 49ers counting the final week of the regular season will be playing their fourth straight road game with the goal of getting a fifth. The 49ers have endured very difficult tests in Green Bay and Charlotte, but certainly have the toughest test of all awaiting them Sunday. How the 49ers respond to the challenge will go a long ways towards determining weather or not they advance to the Super Bowl for the second straight post season.
The Seahawks Simply Need No Introduction- Seattle is looking to advance to their second Super Bowl in franchise history, having lost to Pittsburgh in Super Bowl 40 eight years ago. However this Seahawks team is far different from the team of eight seasons ago. Seattle ranks in the top 10 in every conceivable category on offense and defense. On offense their weapons are multiple starting with quarterback Russell Wilson who has a gun for an arm and can cover 10 yards or more with is legs faster than most who chase him. Out of the backfield Marshawn Lynch is about as tough to tackle as a raging bull. Robert Turbin has a burst of speed that can get him by almost any defenseman in the NFL. The receiving corps is one of the finest assembled in the entire league. Golden Tate like him or not has become an all pro and is one of Wilson’s key “go-to guys”. Former Raider Zach Miller has also been a key player for Seattle’s offense as he is as effective of a receiver and like Lynch can be tough to bring down. Doug Baldwin, Jermaine Kearse and Luke Willson have all been receivers who have made strong contributions for this Seahawks team at some point this season and on more than one occasion. Add to it one of the best offensive lines in the game which protects Wilson very well and you have an offense that is not only very tough to stop, but also just down right lethal.
On defense the team leaders are undoubtedly Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas who are two of the best in the business. They not only cover receivers, they easily close off entire sides of the field. Bobby Wagner, Kam Chancellor, K.J. Wright and Malcolm Smith are amongst some of the league’s top defenders who delivery very bruising hits. The Seahawks goal on defense in to punish, dominate and intimidate from the get go. They are very good at what they do. The Seahawks secondary is one that dares you to throw the ball and they hunt the pigskin down very well. Sherman has eight interceptions to lead the Seahawks in this category while Thomas has five. Byron Maxwell has four interceptions as well. In the kicking department Seattle relies on Steven Hauschka who specializes in long range kicks. Jon Ryan handles the punting duties for the Seahawks.
49ers Challenge is Before Them- The 49ers know their recent history in Century Link Field, and it’s not a very good one either. This has been as tough a visiting venue to play in as any they have gone into in the entire history of their franchise which spans 67 years. The last two games the 49ers have played in Seattle rank amongst some of the worst losses in the history of the franchise. Even before December 2012 the 49ers never had really good games in Seattle. So what will make this game any different than even the last two? There is a lot more at stake in this game than the previous two and the 49ers have won back to back road games for the first time in franchise history in very unfriendly environments. This 49ers team has a good wealth of post season experience over the last three years. In Week 2 the 49ers were not playing their best football and really did not get going until Week 4. Meanwhile Seattle especially since Week 2 has been on fire. In Seattle’s three losses this season they came by a combined 12 points.
What Will It Take to Win in Seattle?- First off keep in mind that you have two true heavyweights here. The Seahawks are like “Clubber Lang” and the 49ers are “Rocky Balboa.” Clubber Lang not only was beating opponents, he was destroying them. He talked a lot but he also backed it up, at times somewhat easily. The first time Lang faced Rocky, he flat out cleaned his clock and left no doubt. How did Rocky come back? He had to find a way to fight a smart fight and contain Lang and limit him just enough to where he could win by decision. This is what the 49ers are facing here. The last two times at Century Link the 49ers have had their collective clocks cleaned. They will need to find a way to contain Seattle and play a very smart game and win an intense chess match. It can be done as the Arizona Cardinals proved on Week 16 in their 17-10 win at Seattle. A year ago the Seahawks beat Arizona at Century Link 58-0. What changed for the Cardinals in a year? The knew the only way to win in the loud environment was to play with a very smart and well thought out game plan. There was no guarantee it would work, and there is certainly no guarantee here either. Again, these are the 2013-14 Seattle Seahawks.
What the 49ers need to do is follow some of Arizona’s blue print from Week 16. At the same time the 49ers also need to follow their own blue print from the last two games they played at Candlestick against Seattle (both 49ers wins, 13-6 on Oct 18, 2012 and 19-17 on Dec 8 2013). The 49ers have a strong defense as was demonstrated last weekend in Carolina when they had their backs to the wall. The Panthers had three deep red zone possessions and only managed three points. Obviously you do not want to give the Seahawks three deep red zone possessions, but just know the 49ers defense is man for man as good as anyone’s including Seattle. The 49ers must find ways to keep Wilson in containment and not let him wander too far out of the pocket. In addition the 49ers need to find a way to stack up Lynch as effectively as possible and at the same time not let Turbin become a major factor. The 49ers also must limit Wilson’s options down field and prevent the big play (or plays). NaVorro Bowman, Patrick Willis, Ahmad Brooks, Justin Smith, Ray McDonald and Aldon Smith all have had strong games this post season and all know what is at stake here having been here before. Donte Whitner, Trummaine Brock, Eric Reid and Tarell Brown are all having solid post seasons as well.
On offense the 49ers again need to be smart and make solid decisions with the football throughout. For QB Colin Kaepernick to be successful he must stick to what got him here and be able to effectively communicate despite the crowd noise. The 49ers need to either operate on a silent count or go no huddle. All the plays the 49ers plan to run need to be pre-installed and based purely on situational scenarios. The 49ers front line needs to be able to give Kaepernick the time he needs to effectively distribute the ball. The good news is the 49ers have Michael Crabtree which forces the Seahawks to draw coverage in his area and take it away from another. No team can double cover every receiver. Anquan Boldin, Vernon Davis, Quinton Patton along with Crabtree need to be in a position where they can make plays. If Frank Gore and Kendall Hunter are going to have any effect out of the backfield, again the offensive line and their ability to block are going to be key. Phil Dawson baring some extremely windy or rough weather can be counted on if the 49ers are in need of a field goal. Andy Lee in the punting duties needs to get the ball as close to the sidelines as he can to prevent any Seahawks returns.
Kingshark Line- The Seahawks enter this game as the favorite and rightfully so. Many of the “experts” have already penciled in the Seahawks as winners in this game and perhaps with good reason given the 49ers recent history in the northwest. The 49ers no doubt have a litmus test here that will certainly try them at every level as a team. If the 49ers are to go down, the good news is at least it won’t be without a fight. Expect the 49ers to battle hard here and give Seattle all they can handle, just as the Seahawks will give the 49ers all they can handle as well. The 49ers to win must avoid turnovers and just be smart throughout and not get caught up in the moment. If the game is low scoring it will favor the 49ers. If the games gets into the 20's or higher that will most likely favor the Seahawks. The 49ers defense must limit the Seahawks on the scoreboard as well as on the field. In the end, the 49ers have the experience of having been in this game the last two years and know what it takes to win it, where as Seattle has not done that as of yet. For the 49ers it will be “Go Bold, or Go Home.” That’s how we are going here too. The 49ers don’t need to win this game by 29 points, or even by 26 points, both of which Seattle has done. In fact the 49ers don’t even need to win by three points either...they just need to win by one! ...And they will!!!... 49ers 17 Seahawks 16.
Follow Me on Twitter @Kingshark49