Are you ready for round 3? The 49ers and Seahawks will meet up Sunday for the NFL's version of heavyweight boxing with a trip to New York for Super Bowl XVLIII on the line. These two teams have been the class of the NFC this season, and this game has been on the horizon since teams began training camp back in August.
For Seattle, their focus has been on getting to this point for over a year. After losing to Atlanta in the Divisional round last season, Pete Carroll told his team, "This is why we need to get home field advantage." Mission accomplished.
The 49ers have been all about getting the opportunity to get back to the Super Bowl to pick up those last 5 yards. They've survived playing without their best wide receiver for the first eleven games of the season, without their best pass rusher for five weeks early in the season, and losing their fullback late in the season to get themselves in this position.
Let's get to the 5 burning questions to which the answers will be key to the outcome of the game.
1) Can the defense keep the ball away from Marshawn Lynch?
Twenty five carries. That appears to be the magic number for Lynch and the Seahawks. If Lynch can get to that number on Sunday, the Seahawks will win. Over the last six games between the 49ers and Seahawks, Lynch has carried the ball 25 times or more twice. The Seahawks won both games.
If the 49ers are able to keep the ball out of Lynch's hands it would mean the 49ers are controlling the tempo and time of possession, both of which have gotten away from them during their recent trips to Seattle.
2) Can the 49ers offense score more than 19 points?
Since Jim Harbaugh took over as head coach of the 49ers his offense has not scored more than 19 points against Seattle. They haven't scored more than 1 offensive touchdown in any game against the Seahawks. Can they change that with a trip to Super Bowl XLVIII on the line?
The other question here would be, "Does it matter?" The way the 49ers defense played last week it may not matter.
3) Will Roman get Gore involved?
Frank Gore has been given the ball 15 times combined over the last two trips to Century Link Field. The last time the 49ers defeated the Seahawks in Seattle was week 16 of the 2011 season. In that game, Frank Gore carried the ball 23 times for 86 yards and the 49ers lone touchdown.
The 49ers must show a commitment to the running game to win on Sunday.
4) Will the defense be able to contain Russell Wilson?
I'm not talking about keeping his stats down here, rather containing him in the pocket. With his small stature Wilson often is at his best when he can move around. The key for the 49ers pass rush this weekend will be to maintain their rush lanes and force Wilson to beat them from the pocket. It all starts with getting a good push up the middle to put guys in his face, and then for the defensive ends to not get deeper than he is. Force him to step up, but don't get too deep to where he can escape up the middle, and then get your hands up.
5) Can Colin Kaepernick beat the Seahawks with his arm?
The Seahawks have blitzed Colin Kaepernick on only 13.9% of drop backs in their two games this season. Against all other opponents Kaepernick has faced a blitz on 31% of his drops. That's a significant difference.
The Seahawks want to force Kaepernick to beat them from the pocket with his arm instead of with his legs, and they have done a very good job with it over the first 3 games against the 49ers young signal caller.
Pete Carroll and Dan Quinn are betting that they can take away Kaepernick's first read and make him drop his eyes to find somewhere to run. Over the last 2 games in Seattle, they have done a great job of dictating where Kaepernick will escape, usually to his left, and have been very successful.
On the flip side, this is the playoffs and Kaepernick has shown a unique ability to step up his play in big games. Can he change the pattern?
49ers 13 Seahawks 16
Date: January 19, 2014 at 10:40 AM
Comment: Playoffs are more about momentum and less about season stats. 49ers have the momentum. Seattle is stalling. Easy win for the Niners.
Date: January 18, 2014 at 6:17 AM
Comment: Throw the stats out the window. Who is playin better in the last month on both sides of the ball. The underlining current here is one of these teams are winning and refuse to be denied. One of these teams have been here several times in recent years. They know what's it feels like to win and lose. One of these teams are not afraid to throw it all down. You tell me which team is mentally prepared?
By: Sky Malotte
Date: January 18, 2014 at 5:17 AM
Comment: I'm an absolute die hard 49er fan, anyone who has a problem with this article doesn't know football, I hope the niners win, but I'm being realistic, just as the writer is. I think the niners will win but it's more of a hope
Date: January 17, 2014 at 9:53 PM
Comment: I have no problem like some of the guys on here with you predicting a Seahawks win... Some of these guys act like you must not be a Niners fan as a result? Nuts.
As a side point though, I've always disagreed with stats such as if Frank Gore carries the ball 25 times or more, the Niners are 14-1; same with Lynch or any other running back. I agree it is important to show a commital to the run, even if down (by a little) in the second half. However, when you are winning, you are more likely to feed the beast.. Did they really win those games because they gave him the ball that much, or did they give him the ball that much because they were winning? He always carries more when we are ahead, and whenever we are ahead, we are statistically already more likely to win. I feel like that is one of the most commonly misrepresented stats. Just giving him the ball on a day when they are getting 8 men in the box and bad looks and bad results likely won't equal a victory, even if they hit the magic number of carries. Good article though
Date: January 17, 2014 at 8:18 PM
Comment: Go niners!
By: Chad Wendt
Date: January 17, 2014 at 3:33 PM
Comment: This game is so hard to pick. I am a die hard 49ers fan for 25 years and have a high level of anxiety for this weekend. I have the utmost confidence in our defense, but that is irrelevant if we cannot possess the ball. My biggest concern is offensive execution and management of time outs. We got lucky the last two games in that the TOs weren't important at the end of the game. If the 49ers limit false starts and are close to 50% on third down they will win.
Date: January 17, 2014 at 2:56 PM
Comment: Niners website, Niners Article, Niners writer.... Yet you have the seagulls winning. Someone should seriously fire you! Go write for Seattle with that BS & get this garbage of an "article" off a Pro Niners website. What a tool! More like By Jack Hammer @intheclosetseagullfan
Date: January 17, 2014 at 2:54 PM
Comment: the niners scored 33 points in Harbaugh's first matchup against Seattle. http://www.nfl.com/gamecenter/2011091110/2011/REG1/seahawks@49ers#menu=highlights&tab=recap
By: Paul A.
Date: January 17, 2014 at 2:45 PM
Nice as always.
The defense has been playing lights out and will continue to play at high level , limiting the number of touches for Lynch.
The offense wiil "Pop" this sunday.
9ers 31-16...SB here they come!
Date: January 17, 2014 at 1:36 PM
Comment: All the stat between these two teams do not matter; this is Championship Football Baby!!! GONINERS!!!
Date: January 17, 2014 at 1:33 PM
Comment: Ouch. Predicting a Seahawks win huh? Unlike you, I have a lot more faith in what the 49ers are now. They win 24-10.
Date: January 17, 2014 at 1:09 PM
Comment: You should have put you're prediction at the top so I could have not wasted my time reading the article.
Date: January 17, 2014 at 12:25 PM
Comment: So long as the Defense stuffs Skittles boy and keep him contained he can carry the ball 100 times for all I care. Carries do not equate Wins. Giving up 5 yards a carry and allowing his downfield blocking to hold on every carry will. Our DBs' need to identify when they are being held and draw the flag when it happens. Cause their Receivers WILL be holding. It happened against the Saints and it WILL happen to us.
If it means taking themselves out of the tackle lane so be it. Pull away and show those punks for what they are. Lynch is formidable to bring down as it is. The Fleahawks get away with A LOT of extra curricular activity past the LoS and it's high time to expose those cheaters for what they are.
Contain their Run Game Defensively and Control the Clock on Offense and the Win will be their at the final gun.
By: Jose L
Date: January 17, 2014 at 11:12 AM
Comment: Based on your prediction I'm assuming your answer to these questions is a "no."
49ers 24-Seahawks 20