It’s not often that the two best teams in a conference play in the same division. That, however, is the case this season, as the Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers will battle in Sunday’s NFC Championship Game for a trip to the Super Bowl on Feb. 2 at MetLife Stadium.
This could turn out to be the most hotly contested playoff game of 2014. Playing in the NFC West, the teams are very familiar with each other. They faced off twice in the regular season, with the home team taking each game.
“We are the two teams that everybody was looking at from the beginning,” Colin Kaepernick said after beating the Panthers on Sunday. “It’s going to be a knockdown, drag-out game.”
In the postseason, playing on the road hasn’t hurt the 49ers at all. San Francisco visited both Green Bay and Carolina in the first two rounds, but managed to leave with victories. After a 12-4 regular season, the 49ers were favored in both of those games.
Visiting Seattle, however, is different than playing any other road game. In the past two years, the Seahawks have lost just one game at CenturyLink Field. In Week Two, they gave San Francisco the worst loss of their season, winning 29-3 and holding them to just 207 total yards. When the two teams played at Candlestick Park, the outcome was much different. The 49ers won 19-17, handing Seattle one of their three losses on the year.
"That's the way it's supposed to end,'' 49ers safety Donte Whitner said, according to Sports Illustrated. "We don't want it to end for us, but we understand we have to go up there in a hostile environment, against a really good football team, and do what a lot of people probably are not going to pick us to do. And that's OK. We understand what we have to do.''
The matchup features two of the best defenses in the NFL. Seattle led all teams in the regular season, allowing 14.4 points per game. In their one playoff game against the high-scoring New Orleans Saints, they held the Drew Brees and company to 15 points. San Francisco finished third, surrendering 17 points per game. They’ll pit the No.4 rushing defense against the No.4 rushing offense in football.
While the AFC Championship Game involves two future Hall of Fame quarterbacks, the NFC title game will see two up-and-comers go head-to-head. Both signal callers are in their second seasons as starters, and have experienced incredible success in a short amount of time. After taking over for Alex Smith last year, Kaepernick led San Francisco to the Super Bowl. Russell Wilson helped Seattle win a playoff game during his rookie campaign, and leads the favorites to win it all in year No.2.
Prediction: San Francisco may be the hottest team that is still alive. They haven’t lost since Nov.17, and are coming off consecutive road wins against the Cardinals, Packers and Panthers. Playing in Seattle, though, gives the Seahawks the edge. Wilson was much more consistent than Kaepernick in the regular season, and a top 10 offensive and defensive team makes the Seahawks the best team in the league.
Predicted Score: Seattle over San Francisco, 20-16