By Gabe Schapiro
For the San Francisco 49ers, the road to their second straight Super Bowl appearance fittingly runs through Seattle. This Sunday at 3:30 pm, the 49ers and Seahawks face off in the NFC championship game. The two heated rivals finished first and second in the NFC West this season, and split their two regular season matchups.
Last weekend San Francisco suffocated the Carolina Panthers in the divisional round, winning 23-10. Colin Kaepernick’s stat line won’t blow anyone away, but he did what he had to, and didn’t make any costly mistakes. He completed 15-of-28 throws, for 196 yards and a touchdown, to go along with a rushing score. Anquan Boldin had a stellar game, with eight grabs for 136 yards. Ultimately though, it was the defense that dominated and won it for the 49ers. They sacked Cam Newton five times, and had two interceptions. The Panthers scored 10 points in the second quarter, but were shut out for the second half.
This week features two very similar teams. Both have young and athletic quarterbacks, run-heavy offenses, and fearsome defenses. For the 49ers, the Seahawks may well be their toughest opponent. Russell Wilson is wise beyond his years, and rarely makes a mistake. Marshawn Lynch is a bruiser, and despite a lot of mileage on his legs is still one of the leagues best running backs. They don’t have a real stand out number one receiver, but they get production from a lot of different sources. Six targets have multiple touchdown grabs this season, and four of those have four or more. In the regular season they scored the eighth most points per game.
However, their defense is their real calling card, boasting the leagues best. They allowed the fewest points and fewest yards in the NFL. They easily have the league’s best pass defense, with their only very slight weakness coming against the run, where they finished seventh. Similarly to their offense, they get production from a lot of different sources, with 10 different players recording more than one sack, and 10 more recording at least one interception in the regular season. Richard Sherman headlines the group as the teams best corner.
The good news for San Francisco is that they won their last matchup with the Seahawks, and they are a team you can run against. The bad news, is that this time they are playing in Seattle, where they may have the leagues biggest home field advantage. Including the playoffs they are 8-1 at home this season.
The last time the 49ers traveled to Seattle they were blown out, 29-3. With San Francisco playing their best football of the year, and the addition of Michael Crabtree to the lineup this time around, things should certainly be more competitive. However the mountain to climb remains steep. Kaepernick will have his hands full, and they’ll need to get Frank Gore going to be successful.
They’re just one step away from another Super Bowl appearance, but that step is an awfully big one.