By Samuel Ross
After upending the 12-4 Carolina Panthers last Sunday to reach their third straight NFC Championship game, the San Francisco 49ers will look to reach the Superbowl for the second year in a row. But first they will have to get past their division-rivals, the Seattle Seahawks, who have looked almost unbeatable at home.
The Seahawks won in impressive fashion on Saturday, beating the New Orleans Saints 23-15. With that win, they improved to a combined 16-1 record at home in the past two seasons including the playoffs.
The Seattle fans, known as the “12th Man”, have made playing in the rainy city extremely tough for visiting squads. They have become notorious for being the loudest fans in the world, and, in their last game against the Saints, the stadium recorded a level two earthquake on a seismograph; it is no wonder that opposing teams have struggled when visiting the Seahawks.
Earlier this season when these two teams met in Seattle, the 49ers appeared rattled and uncomfortable throughout the game eventually losing in a blowout, 29-3. However, the 49ers are much more prepared and confident this time around, and are one of the hottest teams in the league, winners of eight straight contests.
In the playoffs anything can happen, but if the old saying, “defence wins championships” holds true, then these two teams are arguably the frontrunners to win the Superbowl. Both the Seahawks and 49ers pride themselves on their stifling defences and they claim two of the most physical, hard-hitting ones in the NFL.
The Seahawks rank first in the NFL in average points allowed per game with 14.4, followed closely by the 49ers, who rank third with 17. So one thing is for sure, you can bet on a lot of sacks, interceptions, and probably, a few injuries.
However, these teams are in no way one-dimensional, and this game will showcase two of the most electrifying young quarterbacks in the NFL. The Seahawks will start second-year man, Russell Wilson, who took the league by storm in his rookie campaign, and showed no signs of a “sophomore slump” this season. He poses not only a passing threat, as he threw for 3357 yards this year, but also a running threat.
Wilson ranked third among quarterbacks this season in rushing yards, with 539, followed closely by his counterpart in this game, Colin Kaepernick (521). Kaepernick took over the starting quarterback job for the 49ers midway through last season after previous starter, Alex Smith, went down with concussion. He proceeded to take the 49ers to the Superbowl, where they were defeated by the Baltimore Ravens.
At the beginning this season, Kaepernick hungered for a chance to avenge both himself and the 49ers for that loss. Despite starting the year a little shaky, Kaepernick has recently found his stride with the return of his favorite passing target, Michael Crabtree, who had been injured the majority of the season. Both of these quarterbacks have an arsenal of play-makers to throw the ball to down the field.
Along with Crabtree, Kaepernick has Pro Bowlers, Vernon Davis and Anquan Boldin, at his disposal. Wilson, on the other hand, will be throwing to the likes of Golden Tate, Doug Baldwin, and, sensational playmaker, Percy Harvin, who like Crabtree is recently back from injury.
Sunday’s battle between the Seahawks and 49ers should be nothing short of a classic, as two extremely similar teams fight for a spot in the Superbowl. Both teams’ success begins with their defence, but feature dynamic offences that break big plays routinely.
Both Wilson’s and Kaepernick’s talents will be on full display, but, whoever can conquer the opposing team’s defence best will prevail. Kaepernick’s challenge, however, might be seismically larger than Wilson’s as he will have the added distraction of the 12th Man bothering him throughout the game.
The outcome of this match-up is too close to call, but, one thing is for sure: fans will be treated to a hard-nosed, smash-mouth game, which is the way the sport of American Football is supposed to be played.
Photographs: Getty Images