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NFC Championship Edition

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Saturday, January 11, 2014

You are laying in bed. It is 5AM on a Saturday, and you should be sleeping. Everyone else in the house is fast asleep, as normal, well-adjusted people should be. But you are not normal or well-adjusted, and this is no common Saturday. This mania that grips you is not a burden you bear alone. People across the city, across the region, even across the world, are united in thought so strong, it will bring millions of people into alignment for three-and-a-half hours. It is game day; Seahawks game day. Let normal people sleep. There is a playoff game to be won.

Picking which jersey, shirt, pants, underwear combination will yield the optimal karmic energy for the Seahawks can be difficult. Maybe you pick exactly what you wore for the last game they won at home. Or perhaps there is a specific playoff recipe you like. You, too, have to decide if adjustments are needed after the first blowout versus the Saints. Nobody would blame you if showed up wearing the same outfit from that Monday night. Being a veteran affords you the knowledge that layers are crucial on windy, rainy days like this one, and nobody packs their clear plastic Seahawks bag better than you. 

The game is main course, but game day is a seven-course meal. Seahawks dominate the newspaper, ESPN, NFL Network, and sports radio as you get the day started. Your family wishes you good luck as if the jersey on your back was going to grant access onto the field itself. We know that luck is just the intersection of preparation and opportunity, and these Seahawks are as prepared as any team in football. 

Hundreds of thousands across the city are making their own preparations for what is ahead. It is a silently synchronized event. Their power is dispersed at the moment, but that begins to change.

Deciding when to make the pilgrimage down to SoDo is a group decision. Somebody needs to hold down a spot while the rest of the crew gets there. As you step off the bus or try to forget the price you just paid for parking, you see the transformation has begun. Blue, green and silver interrupt the drab gray of downtown. Smiles come easy and people walk with pace and purpose. 

Brothers and sisters of the hawk flood streets that are otherwise reserved for people far less fortunate than themselves or far younger. You are part of a force that gathers like a Pacific storm. People will guess at just how much damage you will cause this afternoon. Adrenaline is already pulsing through your veins. You know what is coming even if they do not.

That moment when you enter the bar is like Cheers ten times over. Nobody may know your name, but every person in there is your friend; bonded by a sometime tortuous past and an unending thirst for the ecstasy of ultimate victory. 

Decision time. Is 9AM too early to drink? Not on this day. Habits reserved for college kids are allowed and encouraged. Conversation comes easy. You are with your best friends, your closest family, or both. The frost that usually keeps people at a safe distance in Seattle melts as strangers become fast friends. Allegiances to political party, religion, race, social class, gender that normally divide are muted by the logo stitched into their shirts. 

The energy in the bar is a micro-cell. You know it will grow and multiply as these cells combine. The clock calls you, and others like you, to the stadium. This is your warm-up. Your pulse quickens. CenturyLink Field is in view the entire way, but is obscured by buildings and the masses in front of you. Until you walk around that last corner and your heart skips a beat for just a second as it comes into full view. You know this place. You know what happens here. Your body is drawn to it. There is nothing behind you now. Only the field in front of you matters.

It is as this point that those joining you are funneled to a point to earn entrance. Cows herded through a gate. Salmon squeezed through a bend in the river. Your energy has built through the morning and slowing to a crawl for even a few minutes tests your patience. A security guard starts a conversation with the woman in front of you about the case her phone is in. This feels like someone standing between you and a loved one. The power you tap into to prepare for these games comes from an animalistic place. It cannot always be controlled. You are tempted to shout, "It's a fucking phone case! Can we move this along?" Wisdom has not completely departed you yet, and so you remain silent. It will be the last silent moment of your afternoon.

Bag is checked. Body is molested, er, patted down. And now that precious piece of paper with the rectangle of vertical bars is presented to the person in the blue jacket with their electronic scanners that double as keys to the Pearly Gates. A satisfying BEE-BOOP confirms your entrance into Shangri-la. You wait for your partners to find their way through, and then start the trek up. Reaching the 300 level robs you of some breath, but that is only basecamp. The ascent up near the top of the stadium thins the air and briefly causes you to remember that you really need to exercise more.

Finally, you reach your row. The spot on Earth that only you are allowed to occupy. Plastic bag goes below your seat. Decisions are made about which layers to keep on and which to remove. Sinking into your seat as you turn around and take in not just the view, but the electricity emanating from every part of the stadium. This is not a normal game. You can feel it. Seahawks fans have come with bad intentions on this day. They are a tidal wave that has not yet crested. 

Opponents feel it. They try to ignore it, but they know what is coming. Their warm-ups are filled with feeble attempts to make the energy their own, but it can only be used for one thing, and that is their destruction. 

Kickoff is nearing. The Seahawks will receive. Every seat is occupied by a warrior ready to join the fray. The flag they fight under is now raised. It ripples in the wind and stirs them further. The Seahawks take the field. A jersey bearing the #11 settles into the end zone. The volume is beyond comprehension. Ground shakes. The referee drops his hand and blows his whistle that nobody hears. The kicker begins his journey toward the ball and certain doom. Kickoff. Go Hawks.

Seahawks And Lynch Repeat History

Beat Saints 23-15

Seventeen games into this 2013 Seahawks season, and there is a lot we still do not know about this team. The offense can operate with deadly efficiency, or teeth-grating ineptitude. The running game can be inspiring or maddening. The passing game can produce 320 yards versus a fantastic Panthers defense or complete two passes in a half against New Orleans. Even starting roles are not set. The #1 seed in the NFC and odds-on favorite to win the Super Bowl is still searching for the championship combination on offense. This defense, though...there is little mystery there. One of the most potent quarterback-coach combinations in the National Football League was once again stifled by a defense that is forcing comparisons to the all-time greats. The final totals for the Saints do not begin to tell the story of what the Seahawks defense accomplished.

Eight times, Drew Brees and the Saints offense took the ball through three quarters, and eight times they came away with no points. Twice they were stopped on fourth down. It was considered silly to think the Seahawks could hold Brees to record lows again, the offense to 188 yards, and Jimmy Graham to under 50 yards receiving. Yet, each item on that list was on track to happen halfway through the game. That is what this Seahawks defense does; they make the absurd the expected.

Jimmy Graham was held to 8 yards receiving, his 3rd-worst total in 52 career starts

Sean Payton is brilliant at what he does. The Saints feature a multitude of weapons that fit together like a Swiss Army Knife. They can attack deep, wide, and middle. They can scamper and they can pound. The offensive line is darn good, and Brees is one of the best to ever play the game. If you told Payton he would get over 100 yards rushing, over 4.0 yards per carry, over 300 yards passing and no interceptions, he would feel pretty darn good about his chances. All that, and it was the 3rd-fewest points they scored all season and just one point more than the lowest total in a playoff game since Payton and Brees were brought together.

Weather conditions hampered both offenses. Only people at the stadium could truly appreciate how much the wind played a role in the outcome. Throwing into the wind was foolhardy, but Brees even struggled throwing with the wind in the first half. Balls sailed on him, leaving them 10-15 yards from their target.

Seahawks fans angry about the offensive performance will not want to hear it, but Seattle handled the elements admirably in the first half. The team scored on each of its first three possessions and four of their first five. They did not have a single three-and-out series, and Marshawn Lynch had eclipsed his rushing total from the first game against the Saints early on in the half. There is plenty of negative to be aware of, and honest about, but a balanced view of this game has to acknowledge that the offense had 162 yards in the first half and turned that Saints fumble into a touchdown.

Four of the past five defenses the Seahawks offense has faced were among the top ten in the NFL, and the fifth was a Rams defense that was top fifteen and playing like top five when they arrived. Every yard has been earned, but they are not earning enough to make anyone feel comfortable about the outcome next week against either potential opponent.

The passing game was amateurish Saturday. Give New Orleans credit for a terrific game plan and execution of it. They played a physical football game that directly altered the outcome. Many have talked about the appearance of targeting Percy Harvin. It looked like a defense that came to make a point, and Harvin happened to pay the price. If you think opposing defense do not want to hit Seahawk players _really _hard every week, you would be mistaken. Even with that, where was the tight end in the game plan?

Zach Miller had one target and one juggling catch for 11 yards after netting 5 receptions 86 yards and a touchdown in the first game between these teams. Russell Wilson has yet to regain his rhythm and confidence. An early inaccurate throw to Golden Tate on 3rd down was especially unlike him, but after writing that a lot lately, it is harder to defend it as an aberration. That was an easy throw to an open receiver in an important situation. Tate did not have his best game either. An early hit may have left him woozy, but he was unable to make a couple tough catches on slants. That is a route he needs to continue to develop, as a number of his drops have come on those plays, and they are generally on pivotal third down moments.

No team passed the ball that well in the games yesterday. Andrew Luck threw four interceptions. Tom Brady was without a touchdown pass. Wilson's best number on the day was his zero turnovers. No small feat in weather like that.

Just as the emphasis was on getting the running game on track the last five or six weeks, now the passing game must evolve. The best news for the Seahawks is the running game has returned. Putting up 174 yards on the ground and averaging 5.0 yards per carry against that defense is superb. Only one team did more on the ground versus the Saints this year. It would be easy to toss out the whole offensive performance as terrible, but that would be an emotional reaction.

Not only did the offensive line clear the way for the running game, but they held up well in pass protection. Wilson was sacked three times, but lost 0 yards as they were all at the line of scrimmage, with Wilson running out of bounds or sliding on two of them. Zero turnovers and seven explosive plays were key. Seattle only had four games this year with more 12+ yard runs than they tallied in this game (4). The seven explosive plays overall were the most for the offense in a month.

They need to do better. Running the ball well gives legitimate reason to believe they can. Just because the defense is playing like the 2002 Bucs or 2000 Ravens does not mean the offense needs to play like what those teams featured.

An overlooked part of the victory was the Seahawks relative discipline. Their 52 penalty yards were the fewest they have had in a game since Week 3 vs Jacksonville. This was just the third game all year that they had fewer penalties than their opponent. Give some credit to Michael Bowie who did not have a holding call or false start in his first game a left guard. James Carpenter has had more than his fair share through the year.

Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas were superb. They combined for 25 tackles, both setting career playoff highs. Chancellor's 14 tackles were a personal best in any game. Doing that in the playoffs says a lot about who he is. Both safeties left game-clinching interceptions on the field, however, and have to know those kinds of missed opportunities will not work the rest of the way.

The best player on the field Saturday for either team was Michael Bennett. He also set a career high for tackles in a game (6), registered half-a-sack, forced two fumbles (although only credited with one), recovered a fumble, and had a tackle for loss. This was his first playoff game, and he dominated.

Doug Baldwin got few chances during the game, but once again made a catch to remember. It was arguably the most clutch reception in Seahawks playoff history. He fought off tight coverage and made a difficult catch in bad conditions. This team is better when he is involved. He is rarely the first read. That should change.

Harvin was a factor, even in another short stint. The personal foul he drew on the first drive led to three points. The clutch third down catch he had led to another field goal, and his fly sweep helped setup Lynch's first touchdown. Whether he will be available for any other games this year is anyone's guess.

Fans endured terrible weather, a frustrating offensive performance, and an opponent that does register very high on the hatred scale. They were loud and standing for much of the game. They also were not close to their best. This team needs the best this town has to offer. Anyone that attended the last NFC Championship game in Seattle knows what that sounds like. The noise never dies down, even between plays on defense. You cannot hear your own voice when screaming, let alone the person standing next to you. Your ears ring for days after, and leave you wondering if you have sustained permanent damage. I have been to every Seahawks game since 1997. I know we can do better, and I'd hate to leave the field next Sunday feeling the same way.

Prepare yourself. Every analyst is going to pick San Francisco to come into Seattle and win next week. Yes, I fully expect it to be the 49ers even thought that game has not yet kicked off. They will disparage this offense. They will gush over the opponent. In just one week, we will all come together: fans, coaches, and players to try and take this franchise to a place it has been only once before. We will be armed with the best defense in the last decade, the best fans in the league, and an offense that features the toughest player in football and has a higher ceiling than we have seen the past month. Brees and Payton managed 15 points against this defense. Neither quarterback or offense that could come here is as potent as they are. San Francisco scored 19 points in their home stadium and just 16 combined in their last two trips here. The Panthers scored 7 at home versus the Seahawks and have combined for 19 points in two home games the past two years. Let them doubt us. Let me come. Championship football is upon us.

Just The Facts: Seahawks Vs 49ers

Sunday, January 12, 2014

There is going to be no shortage of bull piped over every air wave this week about the upcoming title bout between the two best teams in football, Seattle and San Francisco. Not here. At least not in this article. This is where myths come to be exposed.

Myth #1: Michael Crabtree Changes Everything

A prominent story line this week will be that San Francisco is a different team with Michael Crabtree, and he did not play in the first game versus Seattle. Those can be both be true statements, but still tell you very little about how Crabtree plays against Seattle.

FACT: Crabtree has never scored a touchdown against Pete Carroll's Seahawks

FACT: Crabtree averages 3 catches and 34 yards per game vs Seattle since 2010

FACT: Crabtree played in Seattle last year during the Seahawks 42-13 victory 

Myth #2: This game is Wilson vs. Kaepernick

Besides the fact that quarterbacks do not face each other, this game will be more about the running game than the passing game. 

FACT: The team that has ended the game with more rushing yards in 8-0 in this rivalry since 2010

FACT: Colin Kaepernick had 87 rushing yards in the first game this year, and SF was still out-rushed by 72 yards

FACT: Frank Gore had not had 100+ yards rushing in Seattle since 2006

FACT: Gore has averaged 120.5 yards rushing vs. Seattle at home, but just 22 yards rushing in Seattle the last two years

Myth #3: Seattle has never faced a hot Kaepernick

Kaepernick is playing terrific football right now. He finished the regular season going over 100.0 in passer rating for six of his last seven games. He totaled over 300 total yards of offense versus Green Bay and had two touchdowns against the Panthers. There is reason for 49ers fans to be emboldened by his play, but history suggests his play against the rest of the NFL has little correlation to his play against the Seahawks.

FACT: Before Kaepernick's first game as a starter versus Seattle, he was one of the hottest quarterbacks in football, and was coming off of back-to-back games of 100+ passer rating, including a 108.5 game in New England where he had 4 touchdowns. He left Seattle with a 72.0 rating, his worst as a starter up until that point.

FACT: Before Kaepernick's second game against Seattle, he set a career high with 412 yards passing versus the Packers and a 129.4 rating that included 3 touchdowns and 0 interceptions. He left Seattle with a career-worst 20.1 passer rating that featured 0 touchdowns and 3 interceptions.

FACT: Before Kaepernick's third game against Seattle, he had two straight games of 100+ passer rating, including a 134.6 against the Redskins. He finished the game against the Seahawks with a 67.5 rating after being intercepted by Byron Maxwell. That game included Vernon Davis, Michael Crabtree and Anquan Boldin. Seattle only got 2 sacks and 3 quarterback hits in that game. It was the only time in the last 9 games that he had a rating below 72.9. 

FACT: Kaepernick has combined for a 52.9 passer rating in three career starts versus Seattle with 2 touchdowns and 5 interceptions

Myth #4: Vernon Davis would have made a difference if he was not knocked out last year in Seattle

Davis is one of the best tight ends in football, and actually seems like a pretty cool guy. He has not been afraid to praise the Seahawks or the Seattle fans. He has been on fire of late, scoring a touchdown in 8 of his last 9 games. Wow. The one game he didn't score, he did not play. He has generally struggled against Seattle.

FACT: Davis has averaged 3.5 catches and 39 yards per game versus the Seahawks sine 2010

FACT: Davis scored a touchdown in the last game between these teams, but has only 2 in the past 8 match-ups

FACT: Davis has had under 30 yards receiving in four straight games vs Seattle and under 60 in six straight

Myth #5: Anquan Boldin can't be stopped

Boldin is one of my favorite players in the NFL. It is hard to have anything but respect for a guy that plays with his toughness and penchant for clutch plays. Still, he has not fared well up here.

FACT: Boldin may have had 93 yards receiving in San Francisco, but in his two games in Seattle since 2010, he has totaled 29 yards and 3 catches

FACT: Boldin has not scored a touchdown against Seattle in his three games since 2010

Myth #6: The 49ers have a massive advantage at receiver

Crabtree and Boldin are good players, but neither has had much success against this defense. Seattle has some players that have had particular success against San Francisco.

FACT: No player has had more receiving touchdowns against San Francisco in the past three years than Doug Baldwin, who has four

FACT: One-third of Baldwin's career touchdowns have come against the 49ers

FACT: Baldwin has the 4th-most receiving yards against the 49ers since 2011 despite playing in an offense that passes less than any other in football

FACT: In Percy Harvin's one game against the 49ers last year, he had 9 receptions in 11 targets for 89 yards, and a run for 9 yards. His total yardage of 98 yards in that game is more than any receiver for either team has totaled against their respective opponent in a single game.

Myth #7: San Francisco has a massive advantage in the offensive line

I would say the 49ers offensive line is the best in football. They feature tons of top-shelf talent that has been healthy and cohesive for a number of years. Seattle has been shuffling it's line due to injury all year, but has stabilized now. When these teams play each other, there is reason to think the line advantage goes to Seattle.

FACT: No player has rushed for more yards against the 49ers since Jim Harbaugh arrived than Marshawn Lynch

FACT: Lynch's 524 yards rushing over that span is over 200 yards more than the nearest follower

FACT: No player in the NFL has more than 2 rushing touchdowns against the 49ers since 2011 except Lynch who has 5. Frank Gore has just 1 touchdown during that same span.

FACT: Russell Wilson has been sacked 2.3 times per start versus San Francisco compared to 3.0 for Kapernick versus Seattle

FACT: Michael Bowie did not play in either game versus San Francisco this year. Seattle had the best rushing total of their last six games in his first start versus New Orleans

Myth #8: The 49ers are the only ones getting key players back

Mike Iupati did not play in the last game in San Francisco between these teams. Neither did Tarrell Brown. But the 49ers have lost Bruce Miller, and possibly his replacement at fullback. Laugh if you want, but Miller has more receiving yards against Seattle this year than Vernon Davis (FACT). Carlos Rogers may also be out. Seattle did not have Brandon Browner for any of the past three games against the 49ers. Seattle has gained some important contributors back since the last game.

FACT: Walter Thurmond III deflected a ball in the first game that led to a crucial interception, but did not play in the last game

FACT: Harvin did not play in either game

FACT: Bowie did not play in either game, and Max Unger left the last game with a chest injury

FACT: That last game was just the second game back for tackles Russell Okung and Breno Giacomini

FACT: K.J. Wright had to leave the last game. He may play in this one

Myth #9: The Seahawks Offense has to play better to beat San Francisco

Seattle will certainly have an easier time winning if their offense has a better game, but it is not necessary for a win, even a resounding win.

FACT: Seattle had just 277 yards of offense versus New Orleans. They had 290 yards in their 29-3 win earlier this year over San Francisco

Myth #10: Russell Wilson has to play better to beat San Francisco

Wilson has not been playing his best football, but he has not had to for Seattle to win.

FACT: Seattle had 103 yards passing versus New Orleans. They had 118 in the first game versus the 49ers

FACT: Wilson was just 8/19 in the first game when the Seahawks won by 26 points

Knowledge is power

There will certainly be other myths that crop up as the week rolls along. I will do my best to provide facts. Share this information with other fans so they know when to shut off the talking heads on TV since they so often have no basis for their opinions.

FACT: Both of these teams deserve to be in this game

FACT: This will be a game you will never forget

The Birth Of A Champion

Monday, January 13, 2014

Those of us over the age of 30 know the San Francisco 49er franchise as one of the most successful in the history of the NFL. Only the Pittsburgh Steelers have won more Super Bowls than the 49ers five. Names like Bill Walsh, Jerry Rice, Joe Montana, Ronnie Lott and Steve Young are just a sampling of the NFL legends that called San Francisco home. An entire generation of offensive philosophy was born there. But they were not always at the center of the NFL universe. They, like the Seahawks, had to endure an extended stretch without a ring before breaking through for their first. It took a home game against their most bitter rival to do it; a game that ranks among the best in NFL history.
Every person that watched that game remembers where they were when it ended. The Seattle and San Francisco teams that clash this Sunday for an NFC Conference Title are alike in so many ways. The Seahawks are looking to add one more similarity to that list.

Seattle was just a toddler franchise, all of five years old, when the 49ers won their first Super Bowl in 1981. San Francisco had been around as a franchise since 1946. Their .489 winning percentage in the first 35 years is very close to the .483 mark that the Seahawks posted in the 37 years preceding this current season. The 49ers had never made a Super Bowl up until their 36th season, having lost to the Dallas Cowboys in the playoffs three straight years from 1970-1972.

The 13-3 record the team finished with was the best record in team history to that point. They, like the Seahawks, were experiencing remarkable success under a relatively new head coach. It was Walsh's third season, where this is Pete Carroll's fourth. Of course, Carroll--and the last coach to lead the Seahawks to a #1 seed and conference championship game--traces his coaching lineage to Walsh.  That 1981 team also featured a young quarterback, Montana, who was in his third season and first full year as a starter. The secondary had top young talent in Ronnie Lott, Eric Wright and Dwight Hicks. Back then, Lott was a cornerback, and a damn big one.

Most people hear Montana and think unbeatable offense. In that first Super Bowl run, it was the defense that led the way. San Francisco ranked 7th in points scored and 2nd in points allowed.

The conference championship against the Cowboys was the second meeting of the season between the two teams. San Francisco had throttled Dallas early in the year by a score of 45-14 in Candlestick Park. This game followed a different script.

Montana helped the 49ers to an early 7-0 lead on a touchdown pass to Freddie Solomon, but Dallas quickly stormed back to take a 10-7 lead after the first quarter. From that point on, neither team led by more than four points until a Danny White touchdown pass to Doug Crosbie put the Cowboys up 27-21. San Francisco took the ball with 4:54 left to play and marched the length of the field from their 11-yard line all the way to the Dallas six. It was 3rd and 3 with 58 seconds left to play when Montana rolled out to his right and pumped the ball as his primary option was well covered. Just before reaching the sideline, he floated a pass toward the back of the end zone that Dwight Clark snagged with his fingertips for a touchdown. The Catch was born.

Lesser known was that the 49ers defense still had to hold the Cowboys with about 50 seconds to play. Wright made a game-saving tackle of Drew Pearson before Lawrence Pillers strip-sacked White to end the game.

The following season was lost to a strike, but if you take that away, the 49ers went 17 straight seasons from 1981-1998 winning at least 10 games. They won all five of their Super Bowls during that time, made the playoffs in 16 of the 17 years, and featured four NFL MVPs (two each by Montana and Young).

They were no longer the win-nothing 49ers. They won everything. Other franchises rushed to emulate them. Their assistant coaches scattered across the NFL as they were in such high demand, carrying with them core philosophies first learned under Walsh.

It is not unusual to be without a Super Bowl ring. Only 18 teams have ended their season with ultimate victory. Over half of the winners have come from five franchises (Pittsburgh, San Francisco, Dallas, Green Bay, New York Giants). Seattle enters this game with no championship history, but young talent that resembles that 1981 49er squad, a defense-led team, and a coach that has experienced how Super Bowl-winning football is played. San Francisco fans are quite fond of their history, and for good reason. They might not be happy on Sunday if the best moment in their history repeats itself.

NFC Championship: How Many Points Will It Take?

Tuesday, January 14, 2014


Seahawks and 49ers fans may disagree about many things regarding their rival team, but one thing nobody disputes is two of the best defenses in football will take the field this Sunday. A seven-point deficit against these teams can feel like twenty. Most are expecting a low-scoring game, but there is reason to believe that will not be the case for at least one team.


The Seahawks and 49ers have faced each other six times since Jim Harbaugh entered the fray in 2011. San Francisco has won four of those six games, but have lost two of the last three. The teams have had a different scoring profile when winning. The 49ers have averaged 21 ppg in their wins versus the Seahawks, while Seattle has averaged 35.5 ppg. Wins by the 49ers tend to be much closer affairs, with the average score being 21-14.3. Seattle crushes San Francisco so far when they win by an average score of 35.5-9.8. 

The win profile for the 49ers when they play the Seahawks differs greatly from what it looks like versus other teams. While they average 21 ppg in wins versus the Seahawks, they did not win a single game this season against the rest of the NFL when scoring less than 23 points. Seattle has only given up 23 points or more twice all year, and only once at home (vs TAM). 

Pete Carroll's team is a little less dependent on scoring to win. They were 3-2 this year when scoring under 23 points. There has only been two home games all season that they have scored less than 23 points. 

Both teams average in the upper-20s when they win, and not surprisingly, score a lot less when they lose. San Francisco, though, has struggled mightily on offense in their four losses, averaging less than double figures (9.8 ppg). Seattle sits in the high teens.

Similar historic rivalry

Comparisons between the Seahawks/49ers and Ravens/Steelers are common. All four teams made their mark with bruising defense. A look back at the years when both teams were competitive could instructive. I looked at 17 games across seven different seasons, including three playoff meetings in 2001, 2008 and 2010. 

That rivalry tended to involve fewer points overall than what the Seahawks and 49ers have done so far. There were a few 9-6 and 13-10 games in the mix, and both teams averaged around 21 ppg when they won. Two things were of most interest to me.

First, I wanted to know the playoff games tended to be higher or lower scoring than the regular season contests. Second, I wanted to know how the home team tended to do in the playoffs.

In each of the three playoff games between the teams, the combined for more points than they had averaged in their two regular season games. That did not always mean that both teams raised their scoring. Pittsburgh won 27-10 back in 2001, but the 37 points combined was higher than the teams season average of 35. The idea that playoff intensity would lead to lower overall scoring did not hold true for at least these three playoff games.

As far as home field, the Steelers had it in each of the three playoff games, and they won all three. The teams had split their regular season games in two of the three years they met in the post-season.

Conference championship history

Since 1990, the winning team from the NFC has averaged 28.7 ppg in their conference championship. Combining both conferences shows the average winning score was 27.9. Only three NFC winners out of 23 (13%) have scored less than 23 points. Two of those came in the last three seasons when the Giants beat the 49ers in 2011 and the Packers beat the Bears in 2010. 

The road team is 10-13 in the past 23 NFC championships. 

Only once in those games did division rivals meet in the conference championship. Green Bay won in Chicago 21-14 in that one.

Best guess

The most interesting number of them all is that the 49ers have only scored more than 19 points against the Seahawks once in their six games. The over/under on this game in Vegas is 39 points. The teams have combined to score an average of 34 points in their two games so far. The increase we saw in scoring between the Steelers and Ravens in the post-season gives further credence to the idea that Vegas is onto something expecting a slightly higher scoring game.

A 49er team that scored 19 would leave Seattle at 20 if Vegas is right. Throw in the odds, and Vegas is expecting a 21-18 win for the Seahawks. 

First team to 20 probably books a trip to New York. Score 23 or more, and it becomes a near certainty.

NFC Championship: The Role Of Special Teams

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Colin Kaepernick, Russell Wilson, Michael Crabtree, Marshawn Lynch and Frank Gore will get plenty of attention all week. They will all play in big role in the outcome on Sunday, but fewer people seem to be aware of how important the plays will be when none of them are on the field. Special teams has played a significant role
It should come as no surprise that with teams this evenly matched that special teams can be the tipping point, and it often has in these games.

Game 1 - 49ers win 33-17 in SF

Jim Harbaugh's debut as a 49er coach came in 2011 down in San Francisco. His team got out to a 16-0 lead before a 55-yard touchdown by Doug Baldwin brought the Seahawks within 19-17. Ted Ginn Jr. then returned the ensuing kickoff 102 yards for a touchdown. As if that was not enough, he took a punt after the next Seahawks series back 55 yards for another score. 

Game 2 - 49ers win 19-17 in Seattle

San Francisco came into the game as a popular Super Bowl pick, while Seattle was scuffling toward a losing season. Seattle fought to take a 10-3 lead at halftime, but a 33-yard punt return by Kevin Williams led to a David Akers field goal to give the 49ers a 13-10 lead in the third quarter.

Seattle special teams struck back when Heath Farwell blocked a punt and the Seahawks recovered at the San Francisco 4-yard line to setup a Lynch touchdown run. The first the 49ers had allowed all season.

Game 3 - 49ers win 13-6 in SF

Steven Hauchka missed a 51-yard field goal that would have given the Seahawks a 9-3 lead late in the second quarter. Ginn had a 16-yard punt return into Seattle territory to setup the 49ers final scoring drive that put them up 13-6.

Game 4 - Seahawks win 42-13 in Seattle

San Francisco punted after their first possession was a three-and-out. Leon Washington returned the punt 15 yards to the 50, but an unnecessary roughness penalty moved the ball to the 35, leading to the Seahawks opening touchdown. 

Ahead 14-0, the 49ers got down to the 3-yard line before Red Bryant blocked the field goal and Richard Sherman returned it the length of the field for a touchdown.

After finally getting their first points, Washington returned the kickoff 42 yards to setup another Seahawks touchdown and a 28-3 lead.

Game 5 - Seahawks win 29-3 in Seattle

Forgotten in the runaway Seattle win was how well things started out for the 49ers. Seattle got set to punt after their first drive stalled. Someone in the stands blew a whistle, causing a number of the Seahawks players to stand as if it was a dead ball. The ball was snapped and the 49ers blocked the punt. The play never should have counted, but it did. A heroic stand by the Seahawks defense in the end zone resulted in an interception to keep that special teams blunder from having a bigger impact.

Game 6 - 49ers win 19-17 in SF

Down 3-0, the Seahawks had another punt blocked in this game that led to a 6-0 deficit early. The defense once again saved it from being a bigger problem, but when a team loses by two points, these plays become even bigger.

Golden Tate had a 38-yard punt return late in the fourth that setup a Seahawks field goal to take a 17-16 lead. That could have been a game-winning play if not for the 49ers next drive.

Special Teams Heroes 

Percy Harvin has yet to play in these games, and is an obvious potential factor on special teams. Jeremy Lane and Byron Maxwell have been brilliant all year in punt coverage and Jon Ryan has been terrific on punts, as has Andy Lee. Hauschka and Phil Dawson are terrific kickers. Someone is going to make a play on special teams that has a major impact on this game. We find out who on Sunday.

Seahawks Father And Son Tandem Continue To Haunt Jim Harbaugh

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Familial bonds are not always genetic, as we know. There are foster parents, step-brothers, and adopted sisters. There are best friends that you consider a brother or sister. On the flip side, we know that genetic ties do not bind on their own. Parents can leave and siblings can hate each other. You learn over time that what makes someone family is an unbreakable bond that all involved parties are committed to. Seattle, unbeknownst to many, has one of, if not the only, Father-Son duo playing key roles for their NFL team. Their bond is strong, and their impact this Sunday is sure to be felt.

Doug Baldwin made yet another clutch catch last weekend versus the Saints, proving his habit of saving the Seahawks bacon is not reserved for the regular season. Just five years ago, he was close to giving up the game. He was a junior at Stanford, and had been relegated to the scout team by coach Jim Harbaugh. It was degrading and appeared to be motivated by something more than merit on the field. Baldwin would face the number one defense in practice every week and prove his worth with each rep. He did not see a light at the end of the tunnel. He was in the doghouse of a coach that made Michael Vick look like a PETA representative. Baldwin was never defined by football, and weighed whether the sacrifice and angst were worth the reward. Talking things over with his family in Florida and his father at Stanford helped convince him to stick with it. You see, incoming freshmen were assigned fathers. Baldwin, being a wide receiver, was assigned a player one year his elder who also played receiver. His name was Richard Sherman.

Sherman and Baldwin became more than orientation buddies over the years. They became family. When Baldwin faced his difficult decision about how to handle his football predicament, Sherman was there to help. Baldwin helped Sherman through his own crisis at Stanford when he landed in Harbaugh's dog house as well for electing to have surgery on an injured knee. Sherman had been a top receiver before the surgery, but Harbaugh told him he would have to compete with the walk-ons to earn his role back. Instead of fighting what appeared to be a rigged battle, Sherman chose to switch over to defense where Harbaugh played no role on allotting playing time. It was a hard for Sherman to give up his dream of being the next Randy Moss, but the decision would pay huge dividends down the line.

For Baldwin, it took an injury to starter Chris Owusu during Baldwin's senior season to get his shot. He played great, and then would be sat down, and then play great again. He did not do enough to get drafted, but became one of the league's most sought-after undrafted free agents.

Harbaugh was the new coach of the 49ers the year both Sherman and Baldwin were available in the draft. He passed on Sherman four times, and drafted a cornerback (Chris Culliver) roughly 80 spots ahead of where Sherman was picked. He passed on Baldwin 10 times, and spent a 6th round pick on receiver Ronald Johnson.

Sherman was a big part of how the Seahawks successfully recruited Baldwin to sign, but getting a chance to play his old coach twice a year was not far behind.

It did not take long for Baldwin to make Harbaugh wince. The undersized Stanford wide receiver, with an oversized chip on his shoulder, scored a 55-yard touchdown in his first game as a professional that also happened to be against the 49ers. He scored again in the second match-up. That meant half his touchdown catches on the year came against the guy who thought he was a practice squad player.

That trend continued in his second season as he scored two touchdowns in the Seahawks 42-13 win over the 49ers. That remains his only two touchdown game as a pro, and he only had three scores all of last season. He added a 51-yard catch in the first game this season, his second-longest grab of the year.

Sherman had to wait a little longer to get some payback. He forced a fumble in the Seahawks loss in San Francisco last year, but really made his presence felt in the blowout up North. His 90+ yard field goal block returned for a touchdown was among the most memorable plays of the year, but that was not enough. He added four passes defensed and an interception in the end zone. This year, he got another pick and celebrated with the Sea Gals on the sideline.

Baldwin and Sherman are professionals. They take their craft seriously, and it is that dedication that makes their talent so dangerous. This team wants to go 1-0 every week. They want to approach every game with equal intensity. But this game is personal for these two. Jim Harbaugh has messed with Sherman's son and with Baldwin's father. It is never wise to get between family. That lesson comes once again this Sunday.

Podcasts Of The Week

Talking NFC Championship With Softy On-Air

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Softy and I talked about the Seahawks opportunity to secure the biggest win in franchise history.

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