NFC Championship Game Preview and Prediction

Posted: January 17, 2014 in Uncategorized

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By the time Sunday’s NFC Championship Game kicks off around 6:30 PM, the opponent that either Seattle or San Francisco will face in Super Bowl XLVIII will already be determined. Regardless who wins in the AFC, they will face a stiff test against one of the best defenses in football, coupled with a young, blossoming quarterback. These two bitter rivals have met each other three times since Colin Kaepernick and Russell Wilson were named starters in 2012. In two games at Seattle, the Seahawks have battered Kaepernick, outscoring the 49ers 71-16. Will more of the same be coming on Sunday?

When Seattle has the ball…

The Seahawks’ offense can be hit or miss. Wilson, since Seattle’s impressive Monday night victory over New Orleans two months ago, has not been the same quarterback. His struggles might have been explained as merely playing stiffer defensive competition. But, then he looked frazzled last week against the same Saints team that he dismantled in November. Seattle will also be without Percy Harvin this Sunday. Though, they have only had Harvin for two games all season. The real test for Seattle will be whether or not they can run the ball against a 49ers’ defense that shut down the run-heavy Panthers offense last week. In fact, the 49ers’ defense has allowed 93 or fewer rushing yards in five of their last six games, including a 19-17 victory over Seattle at home in which they allowed just 86 yards on the ground. If Seattle wants to advance to their second Super Bowl, they’ll need to do better than that with Marshawn Lynch.

For San Francisco’s defense, it will not only come down to how well they stop the run. But, the turnover differential will be critical as well. San Francisco has forced at least one turnover in all but two games this season (a week three loss to Indianapolis and their Wild Card victory in Green Bay). If Wilson is wild, the 49ers can win.

When San Francisco has the ball…

Say all you want about Colin Kaepernick’s ugly statistics or his awkward appearance in the pocket, the third year quarterback just wins playoff games. He’s now 4-1 in five games over the past two seasons with his only loss coming in Super Bowl XLVII. The only problem is that Kaepernick has looked like a certified rookie in each of his two appearances in Seattle, a venue that has made such luminous stars as Drew Brees and Tom Brady look human. If Kaepernick continues to struggle with the crowd and the vaunted Seattle pass rush, it’s unlikely that Seattle’s offensive performance will even matter. San Francisco won their last game against the Seahawks by controlling the clock and doubling the Seahawks’ production on the ground. That’s the blueprint to beat a Seahawks defense that has the best secondary in the game.

As for that Seattle defense, the name of the game is pass rush. If the Seahawks can make Kaepernick uncomfortable in the pocket, then they will likely win comfortably. Frank Gore had a strong performance the last time these two foes met. But, he has been a virtual no show in two games at Seattle. The Seahawks are relatively healthy, so I expect them to perform as well as they have in recent weeks. The referees could have a large impact on this game if they officiate it in San Francisco’s favor like they did last week in Carolina. Seattle’s defense is known for its physical nature. If the referees want to impact this game with bogus interference calls, the 49ers are more likely to benefit from it.

Prediction

Seattle has lost only once at home in two years. Their advantage in front of the “Twelfth Man” is undeniable, especially against San Francisco. The 49ers, meanwhile, have won back to back on the road in the playoffs, including an impressive win against Green Bay in the frozen tundra. San Francisco has won five straight away from home, and will need to keep that momentum going if they hope to win the NFC for the second consecutive season.

Many are clamoring that Kaepernick is a different quarterback than he was in week two, when Seattle beat San Francisco, 29-3. Whether or not that is true is a matter of opinion. Yes, he has been more efficient down the stretch. But, his dramatic struggles in Seattle can not be ignored until he beats the Seahawks on the road. Or, atleast keeps the game within 25 points. Until that is done, I find it incredibly hard to pick against the Seahawks at home. No team has been able to score more than 20 points against them at home since week 9, and that was the only time all season that it happened. If San Francisco cannot score 20+ this Sunday, they won’t win. I don’t care how good the 49ers’ defense can be. The home field advantage is just too great. The game should be stellar. But, the Seahawks will advance to their second Super Bowl with an eye on their first Vince Lombardi Trophy. Seahawks 23, 49ers 16

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