San Francisco’s Colin Kaepernick has been solid in the postseason (31 of 58 passing for 423 yards, two TDs, one INT, 113 yards rushing), but will have to shake off his bad Seattle legacy. He has thrown four interceptions and just one touchdown pass in two games. Russell Wilson’s numbers have been down lately, but he has made the plays when he has had to.
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A great matchup of feature running backs in Seattle’s Marshawn Lynch and San Francisco’s Frank Gore. Gore is on his game now (150 yards in wins over Green Bay and Carolina). But Lynch was at his best last week with a Seattle playoff record 140 yards against New Orleans. According to Pro Football Focus, he broke 13 tackles against the Saints — every other running back in last weekend’s games combined for 17.
Seattle made an interesting move last week, inserting Michael Bowie as the starter at left guard, benching the rotation of James Carpenter and Paul McQuistan. It seemed to work as the Seahawks got the running game going (174 yards). The 49ers played well last week against Carolina, allowing just one sack.
Unlike when they came to Seattle in Week 2, the 49ers are healthy at receiver, most notably with Michael Crabtree back to full speed. And veteran Anquan Boldin is coming off one of his best games (136 yards against Panthers.) A healthy Percy Harvin would make a big difference for Seattle. Despite playing just one half, he had three of Seattle’s nine receptions against the Saints.
This is a matchup of two of the best defensive fronts in the NFL. The 49ers finished fourth against the run in the NFL at 95.9 yards allowed per game and Seattle tied for seventh at 101.6. San Francisco’s line is led by tackle Justin Smith, who made the Pro Bowl after getting 6.5 sacks. Seattle’s depth up front continues to pay dividends as the Seahawks are fresh for the playoff run. Starting right defensive end Chris Clemons, though, has just one sack since Oct. 17.
Seahawks coach Pete Carroll this week called the 49ers linebackers “one of the great strengths they have.’’ Three were named to the Pro Bowl — NaVorro Bowman, Patrick Willis and Ahmad Brooks, and Aldon Smith has been playing to that caliber lately. Seattle’s linebackers, playing well already, could get an added boost if K.J. Wright can return from a broken foot.
The 49ers have been helped by the improved play of cornerback Tramaine Brock to add to safeties Eric Reid and Donte Whitner, each Pro Bowl alternates. But no secondary in the NFL can top Seattle’s, which continues to play at a high level. Strong safety Kam Chancellor is playing particularly well right now. Seattle, though, needs to hang on to interception opportunities.
The 49ers blocked punts in each game against Seattle this year. Otherwise, the Seahawks have been solid all season. The 49ers have been good, as well. Both kickers have been outstanding. Phil Dawson has solidified San Francisco’s field goal kicking and is 32 of 36, Seattle’s Steven Hauschka is 33 of 35. Former Oregon standout LaMichael James is handling both punts and kickoffs for the 49ers. Seattle hopes Harvin returns to handle kickoffs.
For all that’s been made of the Pete Carroll vs. Jim Harbaugh rivalry, this is their first matchup as coaches that really carries huge implications. Carroll is 2-4 against Harbaugh with Seattle, and was 1-2 against him at USC when Harbaugh was at Stanford. Carroll, though, has had the upper hand by a 71-16 margin in Seattle the past two years.
Seattle’s biggest intangible is actually fairly tangible — the home-field advantage and the 12th Man. Seattle has used that to beat the 49ers 42-13 and 29-3 in the past two games between the two at CenturyLink Field. The 49ers, though, are the hottest team in the NFL at 13-2 (including playoffs) following a 1-2 start and winners of eight in a row, including two road playoff games.
Sure, the play of the Seattle offense lately is a reason for some angst. And the 49ers are an experienced group (this is their third straight conference title game) that is on a roll. But this is the situation the Seahawks wanted — a home conference title game to get to the Super Bowl — and the CenturyLink crowd should be enough one more time.
Seahawks 17, 49ers 13