The San Francisco 49ers look to lock up a spot in Super Bowl XLVIII on Sunday afternoon as they face the Seattle Seahawks in the 2014 NFC Championship Game. The 49ers travel north to CenturyLink Field to face the NFC West winning Seahawks. The game kicks off at 3:30 p.m. PT, and the Seahawks are currently 3 1/2 point favorites.
This game serves as the rubber match of their season series. The Seahawks claimed the first game 29-3 up in Seattle in Week 2. The 49ers gained a small measure of revenge in Week 14 with a 19-17 win at Candlestick Park. Much changed from Week 2 to Week 14, and much has since changed for the 49ers. Michael Crabtree has almost two months worth of games under his belt, and the offense is thriving with him.
The Seahawks have claimed the last two games at CenturyLink by a combined score of 71-16. Colin Kaepernick is 0-2 up in Seattle, and given those big wins the previous two trips, it's easy to see how the narrative spins toward the Seahawks having the significant upper-hand.
And yet, this 49ers team is different than the teams we saw in Week 2 of this season, and late last season. The return of Michael Crabtree has opened up the passing game, and has the 49ers in a position to further open the run game against the Seahawks. For the first time in the Jim Harbaugh era, the 49ers have three legitimate receiving options in Michael Crabtree, Anquan Boldin and Vernon Davis. It might not seem huge to outsiders, but given that this team has rolled out run-down versions of Braylon Edwards and Randy Moss, and guys like Joe Hastings and Brett Swain as the No. 2 WR, this is kind of a big deal.
The question now is how exactly the 49ers elect to attack the Seahawks defense. The run defense is Seattle's biggest weakness, and even that is not quite so bad. Do the 49ers just attack with a steady dose of Frank Gore? Do they go after the weaker links of the Seahawks vaunted secondary? Do they take some shots against the big names? In Week 14, the 49ers avoided Richard Sherman for most of the game. I suspect we'll see something similar this week.
They'll still need to hold up against the pass rush of that incredibly deep defensive line, so we'll see how they handle the rotation of players. Do we see some no-huddle to mix things up and keep the Seahawks on their heels?
On the other side of the ball, the 49ers biggest concerns will be Marshawn Lynch. Russell Wilson could bust out with a big game, but the 49ers first job is to shut down Beast Mode. He's had more success against the 49ers than most any other running back in the league. If they can contain him, they put Russell Wilson in a position where needs to start making plays.
Russell Wilson remains a dynamic playmaker, but his team has been able to get into a position where he can play more of a game manager role. The 49ers need to keep him from getting out and scrambling, and instead force him to beat them from the pocket. He can do that, but he is more dangerous when he starts running around. Do the 49ers cut down on the blitzing, or hope they can get guys to him to put him on his back? Do they spy him with NaVorro Bowman or Patrick Willis, or do they just look for the defensive line to keep him from getting too fleet of foot?
So many questions for two teams that know each other fairly well at this point. There will be wrinkles unleashed by both coaching staffs, but as the cliche goes, it really just comes down to execution. As part of that, the team that wins the turnover battle is likely the team that emerges victorious. Colin Kaepernick and Russell Wilson can make big plays, but the one who makes more mistakes is likely the one who goes home for the offseason.
Here is a rundown of all the pertinent broadcast details, along with the final injury report, officials and more.
Game time: 3:30 p.m. (Pacific Time)
Location: CenturyLink Field, Seattle, WA
TV Channel: FOX
Announcers: Joe Buck, Troy Aikman, Pam Oliver, Erin Andrews
Radio: KGO 810 AM, The Bone 107.7 FM; 49ers Radio Network - Ted Robinson, Eric Davis; Westwood One - Kevin Kugler, James Lofton, Mark Malone; Spanish Radio KTRB 860 - Erwin Higueros, Jesus Zarate
Odds: Pick 'em
Online streaming: FOX Sports Go (Live); NFL Rewind (Not Live)
Questionable: CB Carlos Rogers (hamstring), FB Will Tukuafu (knee)
Probable: LB Navorro Bowman (wrist), LB Ahmad Brooks (illness), WR Michael Crabtree (wrist), DE Demarcus Dobbs (knee, shoulder), C Jonathan Goodwin (foot), RB Frank Gore (knee), LB Dan Skuta (foot), DT Justin Smith (shoulder)
Last time they played: 49ers won 19-17 (12/8/2013)
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