Just minutes after San Francisco’s playoff win at Carolina on Sunday, Seahawks receiver Doug Baldwin tweeted simply: “Wouldn’t want it any other way…”
Indeed, who can argue the sizzle of a Seattle-San Francisco matchup for a berth in the Super Bowl, a showdown that has seemed destined since last season ended?
The 49ers and Seahawks were the preseason NFC favorites of almost every preview magazine and Vegas sports book, and finished the year as the two most dominant teams in the conference in terms of point differential (the Seahawks at plus-186 and the 49ers at plus-134).
And now, after having already established a rivalry that some are calling the most heated in the NFL, the Seahawks and 49ers will hold their most important meeting in their history Sunday at CenturyLink Field at 3:30 p.m. The winner will move on to play either Denver or New England in Super Bowl XLVIII, Feb. 2 in New Jersey.
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San Francisco advanced to the NFC Championship Game with a 23-10 win at Carolina Sunday, a day after the Seahawks beat the New Orleans Saints 23-15.
“I think we are the two teams that everybody was kind of looking at from the beginning,” 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick told reporters after Sunday’s game. “It’s going to be a knock-down, drag-out game.”
Kaepernick also vowed that what happened when the teams last met in Seattle — a 29-3 Seahawks victory on Sept. 15 — wouldn’t matter this time.
“We are a different team than the first time we played them up there,” he said in a FOX TV interview immediately after the game. “We have a lot of key playmakers back and we are ready to go.”
Among those returned players is receiver Michael Crabtree, who missed the first 11 games of the season with an Achilles injury, but has returned to health and has 11 catches in the 49ers’ two playoff wins.
Still, one of the themes of a week that will likely be as hyped and anticipated as any in Seattle sports history is whether the 49ers can handle the CenturyLink Field atmosphere.
Seattle beat the 49ers 42-13 on Dec. 23, 2012, making a combined 71-16 beatdown of San Francisco in the last two matchups at CenturyLink Field. It’s a stat the 49ers will no doubt be weary of hearing by the end of the week.
“We know it’s going to be a dog fight, but we are built for this,” San Francisco running back Frank Gore told reporters. “We are healthy and we are a great team willing to do whatever it takes to win. We are playing great ball right now.”
In fact, the 49ers have won eight in a row overall, which includes a 19-17 win over Seattle in San Francisco on Dec. 8. Five of those wins have come on the road — at Washington, Tampa Bay and Arizona in the regular season and Green Bay and Carolina in the playoffs.
“We feel like we are built to go on the road and win,” Gore said.
Gore was referring to the fact that the 49ers have regained their balance on offense with the return of some of their star power. They have a rushing attack that has gained a combined 293 yards in the two playoff wins and have had at least one receiver top the 100-yard mark in each game (Crabtree against the Packers and Anquan Boldin against the Panthers).
The 49ers may also point to the role that turnovers played in their September loss in Seattle — San Francisco had five while forcing just one, with Kaepernick throwing three interceptions.
Kaepernick, though, seemed in no mood Sunday to dissect the earlier Seattle games, saying “that’s in the past. This is a different situation. We have to go up there and win.”
While the 49ers are playing in their third straight NFC title game, the Seahawks will be playing just their third conference title game since joining the NFL in 1976.
It will be only the second home conference title game, the other a 34-14 win over Carolina following the 2005 season.
The Vegas oddmakers, though, are anticipating a much closer game this time, installing Seattle as a 3.5-point favorite. That essentially equates the teams as equals since teams receive about a three-point edge for homefield advantage.
“Man, it’s perfect,” San Francisco linebacker NaVorro Bowman said in an interview on NFL Network of returning to Seattle. “We’ve been on a roll, we’ve been winning. We’ve played in the cold, played in the worst possible atmospheres we can play in. Man, all the excuses go out the window.
“. … We’ve got a nasty taste in our mouth, so it’s going to be a fight.”
As Bowman added, though, each team is “hungry” to get to the Super Bowl. Seattle players are trying to advance to only the second in team history and the 49ers are hoping to return and avenge last year’s loss to the Baltimore Ravens.
“No preference,” Seattle defensive end Red Bryant said Saturday, when asked which team he wanted to play. “Whoever is coming in here, just be ready to play, because we damn sure will be.”
|The Seahawks are making their third appearance in a conference championship game. The two games (one in the AFC, one in the NFC):|
|AFC||1983||Jan. 8||Los Angeles||L.A. Raiders 30, Hawks 14|
|NFC||2005||Jan. 22||Seattle||Hawks 34, Carolina 14|
Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @bcondotta.