Scouting the NFC Championship game

Posted Saturday, Jan. 18, 2014  comments  Print Reprints
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49ers at Seahawks, 5 p.m. Sunday, KDFW/Ch. 4

Russell Wilson is 25. Colin Kaepernick is 26.

They meet for the first time in the postseason in what could become the next great quarterback rivalry.

Wilson, a third-round pick in 2012, is 24-8 in his two years as a starter. He is 2-1 in the postseason, losing 30-28 to the Falcons in a divisional round game last year. Kaepernick, a second-round pick in 2011, is 17-6 in his year and a half as a starter. He is 4-1 in the postseason with his only loss coming in the Super Bowl last year.

This is a dream matchup for the NFL and Fox.

The Seahawks have created the best home-field advantage in the NFL. They are 16-1 at home in the two years with Wilson as their starting quarterback. In those 17 games, Wilson has a 110.7 passer rating, and the Seahawks have a plus-26 turnover margin. They outscored those 17 opponents by an average of 29-13. Seattle has been to the Super Bowl only once previously. The Seahawks lost to the Steelers 21-10 in Super Bowl XL to end the 2005 season.

The 49ers are attempting to put together another dynasty, with a third consecutive trip to the NFC Championship Game. They have won five Super Bowls, but the last came to end the 1994 season. San Francisco lost Super Bowl XLVII last year to the Baltimore Ravens. The 49ers’ eight-game winning streak is the NFL’s longest active. They are the NFL’s best road team, with an 8-2 record away from home this season, including two playoff wins. One of their road losses was in Seattle, a 29-3 blowout on Sept. 15.

What’s working for the 49ers

San Francisco’s offense is a different animal with Michael Crabtree. Since his return from an 11-week absence while recovering from a torn right Achilles’ tendon, Crabtree has helped the 49ers average 355 yards of offense while going 7-0. Kaepernick has nine touchdown passes, two interceptions and a 95.5 passer rating since Crabtree’s return. San Francisco has scored 23 points in each of its past three games.

Cause for concern

The Bills had the most rushes this season with 546, followed by the Seahawks (509) and the 49ers (505). The 49ers still are a run-first team, but Frank Gore has not had a lot of success against the Seahawks since Pete Carroll arrived. In the 29-3 loss in Seattle early in the season, Gore had only 16 yards on nine carries. The Seahawks have allowed an average of only 86 rushing yards per game in their past eight games, including last week’s victory over the Saints.

What’s working for the Seahawks

Seattle had the league’s No. 1 defense in scoring (14.4), yards allowed (273.6), passing yards allowed (172) and interceptions (28). The Seahawks have the NFL’s best secondary with cornerback Richard Sherman and safety Earl Thomas both candidates for defensive player of the year. Sherman defensed 57 passes, and quarterbacks had only a 47.3 passer rating against him, according to Pro Football Focus. Both numbers led the league.

Cause for concern

The Seahawks have struggled throwing the ball of late, and it’s doubtful they’ll be better against the 49ers, given that Percy Harvin will miss the game with a concussion. Seattle has scored more than 23 points only once in the past five games. Wilson has been ineffective, with the two lowest passing totals of his career over the past three games. Last week, he went 9 for 18 for 103 yards with no touchdowns and no interceptions against New Orleans. The 49ers expect a big dose of Marshawn Lynch, who has averaged 23 rushes for 98 yards his last five games against them.

Texas ties

Seattle: Michael Bennett (Texas A&M); Red Bryant (Texas A&M); Clint Gresham (TCU); Christine Michael (Texas A&M); Earl Thomas (Texas); Luke Willson (Rice); Russell Okung (Houston Fort Bend Bush); Mike Morgan (Dallas Skyline); Jeremy Lane (Tyler).

San Francisco: Michael Crabtree (Texas Tech); Tarell Brown (Texas); Phil Dawson (Texas); Tony Jerod-Eddie (Texas A&M); Colt McCoy (Texas); Vance McDonald (Rice); Darryl Morris (Texas State); Perrish Cox (Waco University); Kendall Hunter (Tyler John Tyler); LeMichael James (Texarkana Liberty-Eylau).

Prediction

The 49ers have been road warriors the past two years, but they can’t seem to win in Seattle. They were outscored 71-16 in their two trips there the past two seasons, with Kaepernick throwing four interceptions and only one touchdown pass. It is hard to pick against the Seahawks at home, but if the 49ers can manage the crowd noise and not fall behind, they will win. San Francisco might be the most complete team in the playoffs. Seattle 24, San Francisco 23. — Charean Williams

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