49ers Keys to Victory: NFC Championship Edition

This is it. We wanted it. We got it. The San Francisco 49ers and the Seattle Seahawks in the rubber match of the season at CenturyLink Field for the NFC Championship.

For the Niners, it’s their third straight trip to the NFC title game in Jim Harbaugh’s three years as head coach, making him the first coach in NFL history to accomplish the feat. Overall, this is San Francisco’s 15th conference title appearance, tying them with the Pittsburgh Steelers for the most all-time. The 49ers are also the hottest team in the league right now, winning eight straight and 13 of their last 15 games.

With their win over the New Orleans Saints, the Seahawks have reached their first NFC title game since 2005. The win also continued Russell Wilson’s dominance at home, where Seattle has only lost once since he took over at quarterback.

CenturyLink, conversely, has been a house of horrors for Colin Kaepernick. In two games against his division foe, Kap has put up abysmal numbers, and has seen his team outscored 71-16. In the loss earlier this season in the Pacific Northwest, Kaepernick was downright awful, going 13/28 for 127 yards with no touchdowns and three interceptions. That yielded a quarterback rating of 20.1, the lowest of his career.

However, CK7 has been very steady during the winning streak, including leading the game-winning drive against the Green Bay Packers in the Wild Card Round, and his touchdown scamper last Sunday, which put the Niners up 20-10 over the Carolina Panthers. If San Francisco plans on making a second straight trip to the Super Bowl, they will need to protect their quarterback, something they improved last week, allowing only one sack compared to six in the Week 10 matchup with Carolina.

Undoubtedly, this game will be won in the trenches. Both teams play physical, smashmouth football, and the 49ers have to control the ground attack on both sides of the ball. Frank Gore rushed for 84 yards last Sunday, including this big 39-yarder in the 4th quarter on 3rd down. Gore will be looking to duplicate the success he had against Seattle in Week 14, where he carried for 110 yards.

On the defensive side of the ball, the 49ers have not allowed a 100-yard rusher all season. Marshawn Lynch was the only one to come close, carrying for 98 yards and two scores against San Francisco in Week 2. Last week, he showed his “beast mode” ways were back in full effect with a 140-yard, 2 rushing touchdown performance. It’ll be up to San Francisco’s stout front seven to contain Lynch.

Speaking of containment, both defenses are sure to have their hands full with Kaepernick and Wilson. The duel threat passing and running ability of each makes them incredibly dangerous on the move. Despite his short stature, Wilson is one of the best scrambling passers in the league. However, in his last five outings, Wilson is averaging a mere 150 yards through the air. Kaepernick’s blinding speed is no secret, and Richard Sherman and the “Legion of Boom” secondary are sure to force Kap into some running situations. The defensive ends on both teams will be taxed with making sure both quarterbacks aren’t able to run wild.

As if these two fan bases didn’t despise each other enough, the Seahawks have only made tickets available in certain geographic locations, California not included. Seattle is certainly trying to utilize every bit of their 12th man advantage, but all of that is a smokescreen. The 49ers need to concentrate on a game plan to overcome the noise. Silent signals, multiple options and check downs and getting plays called quickly will be crucial. It wouldn’t shock me if Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman will already have the first couple of drives diagrammed or elect to go no-huddle early.

There is no question this will be the 49ers toughest test of the season, but it should be a far cry from the 29-3 beat down the Seahawks put on the Niners in Week 2. This is a different 49ers team. A hungrier team who truly believes nobody has is better than them. Can San Francisco make it to their seventh Super Bowl? Tune in this Sunday (kickoff 3:30 PST) as the Quest for Six marches on!

You can follow me on Twitter @mrandyparker

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