PHOENIX - NFC Championship: San Francisco 49ers (14-4) vs Seattle Seahawks (14-3)
Sunday, January 19, 4:30 PM, CenturyLink Field, Seattle, Washington
One of the best story lines to this game is the two coaches: San Francisco's Jim Harbaugh and Seattle's Pete Carroll just don't like each other. The two have been going at it since they were Pac-12 coaches at Stanford and USC. The 62-year-old Carroll and 50-year-old Harbaugh have been battling ever since the now infamous, "What's your deal?" confrontation during a post-game handshake after Stanford beat up on USC in 2009.
But the two coaches say there is no animosity between them: "Animosity? No," said Harbaugh. "That's erroneous, erroneous. It's football. It's competition. It's about winning."
That's all well and good from Harbaugh, but what does Pete Carroll have to say?
"What's the deal, huh?" Carroll said. "We have not been friends over the years. We don't know each other very well. It's a very, very confined relationship in that regard."
So there you have it, two successful coaches will now square off against each other with a potential trip to the Super Bowl on the line. Talk about intense!
But what about the game itself, when the two coaches are on the sidelines?
The 49ers have the NFL's longest active winning streak at eight games and perhaps the league's most complete team, with the most wins and the toughest defense since Week 4 of the regular season. The offense seems to have hit its stride over the last five games. And the Niners are the best road team in the league (8-2 on the road; combined regular-season and playoff record).
However, the Seahawks have the best home-field advantage in football. They're 16-1 over the last two plus seasons, with a league-leading plus-26 turnover margin and an average score of 29-13 in Seattle since drafting Russell Wilson in 2012.
Since Colin Kaepernick became the 49ers starting quarterback in the middle of the 2012 season, the two teams have met three times and the home team has won each time, but the Seahawks hold an impressive 88-35 edge in points.
Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson has been struggling as of late, falling quickly since week 13 of the regular season. Since winning against the Saints in week 13, Wilson hasn't thrown multiple touchdowns in a single game and his passer rating in 31 points lower. The Seahawks offense is averaging 8 fewer points per game and nearly 100 yards per game.
With Percy Harvin ruled out due to a concussion, and Golden Tate coming off his least-effective game of the season, there's little reason to believe Wilson will somehow be better on Sunday.
And while Wilson has been struggling, Kaepernick has turned his season around since Michael Crabtree's return, recording eight consecutive wins while posting a 100.0 passer rating and an impressive 12:2 touchdown-to-interception ratio.
Just like the AFC Title game, we can expect both teams to also turn to the running game with Seattle's Marshawn Lynch and San Francisco's Frank Gore. Lynch is averaging 23 carries for 98 yards in his last five games against the 49ers while Gore is just as able to take over a game as Lynch.
Two teams out of the NFC West squaring off for the NFC Championship has a lot of intrigue and won't be easy to predict, but given the fact that the game is in Seattle, I'll give the nod to the Seahawks. Give the 12 th man at CenturyLink field a lot of credit!
My Prediction: Seattle by 3.