The 49ers … no, wait, the Seahawks … no, wait

A case can be made for either team to win Sunday’s NFC Championship Game. It’s enough to make my head spin

john.mcgrath@thenewstribune.comJanuary 15, 2014 

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STAFF ILLUSTRATION

The NFC Championship Game between the Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers is four days away, and my mind has split into two sides that don’t get along.

On the right side, the emotional side that connects visual images with intuition and opinion, I’m beginning to believe the 49ers are primed to deliver a knockout blow to the Seahawks.

On the left side, the studious side, where facts are stored and numbers are analyzed, I’m not about to stray from my preseason prediction that had the Hawks finishing first in the NFC West, with a 13-3 record, and winning the Super Bowl.

On most occasions, I’m clearly partial to the right side — the reactionary side — because it’s a lot more fun in there than in the quiet office cubicle across the hall. But I’m gaining an appreciation this week for the side where reasoning leads to logic and have promised myself to soon start using it once or twice a year.

Meanwhile, my right-side hunch about the Niners taking it to the

Hawks on Sunday is countered on the left side by these helpful things called facts. The debate typically sounds like this:

Right Side: “Frank Gore — even his name sounds scary — will prove to be the same nemesis to the Seahawks as he was on Dec. 8. Recall how Gore burst past overeager safety Earl Thomas for a 51-yard run, midway through the fourth quarter, to set up the winning field goal for the 49ers?”

Left Side: “That was in San Francisco. The NFC title match is scheduled for CenturyLink Field, where the Hawks’ 23-15 elimination of New Orleans last week was their 16th victory in their last 17 home games. Since 2005, by the way, the Hawks’ postseason record in Seattle is 6-0 – and a case could be made it’s 7-0, if that regular-season finale against St. Louis, with the 2010 NFC West title at stake, is included.”

Right Side: “The 49ers are on a late-season roll and are afraid of nobody. Their chippy antics at Carolina probably turned off traditionalists but showed an attitude that’ll serve them well in a hostile setting.”

Left Side: “They brought that same attitude to Seattle during the last two visits, and they were outscored 71-16.”

Right Side: “As quarterback Colin Kaepernick pointed out during his TV interview on the field last Sunday, this 49ers team is different than the team that lost at The Clink in Week 2.”

Left Side: “All four of the teams remaining in the playoffs are different than they were in Week 2. It’s football. Injuries are suffered, recoveries are made, and then other injuries are suffered. The Seahawks are 12-3 since Week 2. The 49ers are 13-3. They won one more than the Hawks because they faced the 8-7-1 Packers in the wild-card game, and needed a last-second field goal to pull out a 23-20 victory.”

Right Side: “San Francisco’s incomparable linebackers — Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman on the inside, Aldon Smith and Ahman Brooks on the outside — will make things more miserable for running back Marshawn Lynch than a crowd of reporters huddled in front of his locker. It’s difficult to go into Beast Mode if the 215-pound Beast is giving up 20 or 30 pounds in the ensuing collision.”

Left Side: “Lynch’s 140-yard rushing effort against the Saints was not his most impressive stat. His most impressive stat — this according to Pro Football Focus — was breaking 13 tackles in one game. As a point of reference, Ravens running back Ray Rice broke nine tackles all season.

Right Side: “Did you see Brooks’ acrobatic sky dive over the line — and then over Cam Newton, with plenty of room to clear — at Carolina? Brooks mistimed the blitz, costing a 5-yard penalty, but the quarterback’s Newtonian reaction was priceless: ‘What goes up must come down,’ his body language said, ‘and, just to be safe, I’m heading down, too.’ Russell Wilson is gonna have his hands full Sunday.”

Left Side: “Since Wilson made his debut as a rookie in 2013, the Seahawks have won 24 times. Dating back to the NFL-AFL merger season of 1970, no quarterback has led his teams to more victories in his first two seasons.”

Right Side: “Wilson looks tentative when he drops back to pass — confused, even — and he’s been done no favors by an offensive line that’s always in flux and a receiving corps absent a consistent go-to target. As Wilson has regressed, Kaepernick has matured.”

Left Side: “Wilson threw for 3,357 yards this season, Kaepernick threw for 3,197. Wilson’s quarterback rating was 101.2, Kaepernick’s was 91.6.”

Right Side: “If the 49ers pull ahead late, good luck on trusting Wilson’s ability to generate a comeback.”

Left Side: “Between 2012 and 2013, Wilson has led the Seahawks to nine fourth-quarter comebacks. Among all the quarterbacks who have played their first two seasons since the 1970 merger, he’s tied for second in that admittedly obscure category.”

Right Side: “Michael Crabtree and Anquan Boldin are as tough and sure-handed as any pair of wide receivers on the planet, and with tight end Vernon Davis in the mix, the Seahawks’ ‘Legion of Boom’ secondary will be challenged by cold-blooded pros who take no guff.”

Left Side: “The 2013 Seahawks led the league in fewest passing yards and most interceptions, sharing that postmerger distinction with the 1982 Dolphins and the 2002 Buccaneers. Both teams advanced to the Super Bowl.”

Right Side: “Jim Harbaugh’s 49ers are preparing for their third NFC championship game in three seasons but haven’t won a Super Bowl since the 1994 team coached by George Seifert. They’re on a mission, and they won’t be denied.”

Left Side: “The Seahawks are 6-0 in home playoff games since 2005.”

OK, once in a while, the left side of my mind — the rational, bottom-line-at-the-end-of-the-day side — has to repeat itself.

But the rational side doesn’t scream, and isn’t fazed by the YouTube highlights of the 49ers’ greatest hits. The rational side, convinced the Seahawks will prevail, shall enjoy the last word.

For the next, oh, hour or so.

john.mcgrath@thenewstribune.com

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