49ers must strike first to have a chance in NFC Championship

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San Francisco 49ers vs. Seattle Seahawks

Sunday, January 19, 3:30 PM PST

CenturyLink Field

Key Matchup

The Starks vs. the Lannisters. Coke vs. Pepsi. Hook vs. Pan. These are some of the great rivalries of our time. The Seahawks and 49ers haven’t been at each other’s throats for very long, but the antipathy between these two teams is palpable. Inside the game there are at least a dozen great individual matchups to follow, but I think the most important one on Sunday will be the Legion of Boom vs. Colin Kaepernick. In his two previous outings at CenturyLink Field, Kaepernick has thrown four picks to just one touchdown. That cannot continue if the 49ers are going to have any chance in this game. Winning the turnover battle is absolutely essential for the 49ers. Richard Sherman, Byron Maxwell, Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor will all be back there waiting for the young quarterback to make a mistake. If (and when) he does, it will be lights out for San Francisco.

The Seahawks Win If …

Pound the rock. That’s the only message that should matter for the Seahawks offense. Marshawn Lynch has absolutely owned the 49ers during his career. This season in two games against the niners Lynch ran for 170 yards and three rushing touchdowns to go with a receiving one. For all the talk about Seattle’s passing game, their success will ultimately come down to their defense and how well Lynch is able to run the ball against this big, burly San Francisco front seven.

The Seahawks Lose If …

San Francisco has to score first. It’s the only way. The last two times the 49ers came to Seattle they got blown out 29 to 3 and 42 to 13. Falling behind is simply not an option. Pete Carroll’s strategy is to run the ball and not take big risks on offense while relying on his defense to keep the other team off the score board. The 49ers must score a touchdown in the first quarter and force Russell Wilson (who has been struggling of late) to throw the ball. If they can’t jump out to an early lead they will be ground to dust by Beast Mode’s power runs and the suffocating pass coverage of Seattle’s secondary.

What’s At Stake

In my conversation yesterday with Scott Adams I said that this game might very well be even bigger for Seattle than Super bowl XL was. The biggest reason in my mind is this Seahawks team has a much better chance to go all the way and win the Super bowl than the 2005 group did. That team was an offensive powerhouse that ranked 1st in the NFL in scoring, but they got battered in the championship game by a Pittsburgh Steelers team built on defense. Defense wins championships, and that’s exactly what this team is all about. This is the 49ers’ third straight trip to the NFC Championship game and they have a very solid defensive unit, but last year they fell to a Ravens team whose defense was just that much tougher in the big game. Given Seattle’s defensive dominance and going up against their most hated rivals, this is the biggest game in Seahawks history.

Oddsmakers

Line: Seahawks -3.5
O/U: 39.5
Moneyline: Seattle -130 | San Francisco +110


Who’s the better quarterback? Check out the great 2014 Russell Wilson Colin Kaepernick debate.


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