While the AFC’s quarterback matchup pits arguably two of the best quarterbacks in NFL history against each other, the NFC’s title game will feature two rising and versatile passers in Seattle’s Russell Wilson and San Francisco’s Colin Kaepernick.
The Seahawks will host the 49ers on Sunday at CenturyLink Field, and a trip to Super Bowl XLVIII is on the line.
Both teams sport the two best defenses left in the postseason and it will be on Wilson and Kaepernick to breakthrough and make key plays down the stretch to advance. Seattle ended the regular season as the NFL’s best ranked defense, and San Francisco fifth overall, while they finished one and two in takeaway ratio in the NFC.
In the head to head matchup, Wilson has gone 2-1 against San Francisco with Kaepernick starting under center, but the 49ers won the last matchup in Week 14 19-17. Sunday also marks the first time the NFC West rivals will meet in the postseason.
At first glance Wilson and Kaepernick have lots in common. Both weren’t highly rated in their respective drafts, both supplanted a veteran for their starting role, both have shown leadership skills and poise beyond their years, and both can take off from the pocket for huge chunks of yardage.
A side-by-side statistical comparison also shows the quarterbacks are in a dead heat, but Kaepernick does pull ahead with a little more playoff polish and better receiving threats.
A third round pick that swiped the starting job from a high-paid veteran, Wilson has taken Seattle to the postseason for a second straight year, throwing 26 touchdowns in each of his first two seasons. The 25-year-old upped his total rushing yards to 539 this season from 489 a year ago, but scored only one rushing touchdown to four in his rookie campaign.
Wilson didn’t need to produce much in last week’s Divisional Round as Seattle jumped out to a 16-point half time lead, and running back Marshawn Lynch chewed up the clock with 140 rushing yards and two touchdowns. Wilson went 9-for-18 for 103 yards passing, and rushed three times for 16 yards in the 23-15 win over New Orleans.
Wilson now has a 2-1 postseason record, and but doesn’t have the targets Kaepernick has at his disposal.
Winners of eight straight, the 49ers will go for their fourth consecutive road playoff victory and Kaepernick has shined in every one. Including last year’s playoff run, Kaepernick has tossed six touchdowns to three interceptions, completed nearly 58 percent of his passes for 1,221 yards, and rushed for 377 yards and four touchdowns.
Kaepernick has the added benefit of top tight end Vernon Davis, veteran receiver Anquan Boldin, and Michael Crabtree returning from injury to round out his receiving corps. The trio has combined for five Pro Bowl appearances and both of the 49ers 1,000-yard receiving seasons in the last decade.
Wilson has spread the ball all over the field with receivers Golden Tate and Doug Baldwin, along with tight end Zach Miller each totaling five touchdowns. However, none has made the Pro Bowl or topped 1,000 yards in their careers and the Seahawks are unsure if Percy Harvin will even play.
Harvin wasn’t cleared to practice on Thursday after sustaining a concussion in the second quarter of last week’s victory over New Orleans. Expected to complete the Seahawks offense when he was acquired from Minnesota, Harvin has appeared in two games making three receptions while recovering from hip surgery.
Even with Harvin down, Wilson should challenge both Kaepernick and the 49ers until the final whistle on Sunday.