49ers

NFC Championship Game Preview: San Francisco 49ers vs. Seattle Seahawks

The NFC Championship Game will act as the rubber match between the Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers after the two teams split their two regular season meetings as NFC West rivals. They were the two best teams in the NFC for much of the season, and it’s only right that we see them meet again with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line. Let’s take a closer look:

HOW DID THEY GET HERE?
These two teams finished with the two best records in the NFC, with Carolina tying San Francisco’s mark of 12-4. Of course, only one of these teams could win the NFC West, and that was Seattle, who has only had to play one playoff game to this point, holding on at home to beat New Orleans last week. Meanwhile, the 49ers have made it to the championship game the hard way, by winning two road games against division champions Green Bay and Carolina, doing so in impressive fashion, especially with their impressive 2nd half against the Panthers last week.

SAN FRANCISCO OFFENSE VS. SEATTLE DEFENSE
Last week, the 49ers scored points in every quarter and moved the ball against the Carolina defense better than nearly every other team the Panthers had played all season. San Francisco is clicking offensively behind Colin Kaepernick and the receiving trio of Anquan Boldin, Michael Crabtree, and Vernon Davis. Any of the three is capable of having a big game in any given week, as Crabtree was the star in the wildcard game against Green Bay, while Boldin was unstoppable last week against the Panthers. This week, they’ll be going up against a Seattle secondary that has three Pro Bowlers, creating an intriguing matchup between the strengths of both teams. Kaepernick will have to be sharp throwing the ball, because the Seahawks are great at creating turnovers, but if he can be accurate with his throws, it will be tough for Seattle to keep all three receivers under wraps for the entire game. The X-factor in the matchup is Kaepernick and Frank Gore running the ball. Seattle has one of the best rush defenses in the league, but even they’re able to contain Gore, preventing Kaepernick from getting on the edge and making plays with his legs is another story. If Kaepernick can be effective with both his arm and his legs, the Seattle defense will face their toughest opponent of the season, but if they can force Kaepernick to be one-dimensional they’ll be in good shape at home, as their defense has been exceptional for much of the season.

SEATTLE OFFENSE VS. SAN FRANCISCO DEFENSE
The Seattle offense has been quite underwhelming over the past month, as they are a far cry from the form they had earlier in the season. Russell Wilson has thrown for more than 200 yards just once in the past five games, in part due to a lackluster set of receivers, as Percy Harvin has not become a factor after missing most of the season with an injury. Unless something changes against one of the best defensive teams in the NFL this week, the Seahawks will have to rely on running back Marshawn Lynch to carry the offense. Lynch has been great for much of the season, including last week against the Saints, but he was just a shade above average in two games against the 49ers during the regular season, and he’ll have to be much better than that to carry the Seahawks to victory on Sunday. Even for a physical and powerful back like Lynch, San Francisco’s linebackers pose a tough matchup and could be tough to run against. If Lynch can have some success, it should free up Wilson to make some plays and move the ball, but if the Seahawks can’t rely on their running game, they don’t have the receivers necessary to move the ball consistently and create big plays against such a talented defense.

PREDICTION
The Seahawks have been sensational at home this season, but the Arizona Cardinals proved in week 16 that Seattle is not unbeatable at home. The Seahawks may have been the best team in the NFC during the regular season, but they’re not playing their best football of the season right now, especially on offense, while San Francisco keeps getting better each week. The 49ers have scored 23 points each of the last three weeks, and if they can reach that mark again, the Seahawks don’t have the playmakers on offense to top it. San Francisco 23, Seattle 16.

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