san francisco 49ERS AT seattle SEAHAWKS 3:30 p.m. Sunday, CenturyLink Field. TV: Ch. 13. Radio: 710-AM, 97.3-FM, 96.9-FM, 1240-AM, 1030-AM
Colin Kaepernick has not been at his best at CenturyLink Field. Russell Wilson has not been at his best of late. Sunday, two of the quarterbacks expected to lead the NFL into its next era will play for a spot in the Super Bowl. At home, with the conditions improved, a narrow nod to Wilson.
Marshawn Lynch ran for a Seahawks playoff-record 140 yards last week. Frank Gore has been tricky to contain for the Seahawks because of his ability to cut back and wiggle through small holes in the line. San Francisco’s menacing linebackers almost make this a push. Almost.
The return of Michael Crabtree from an Achilles injury and the absence of Percy Harvin turns this over to the men from San Francisco. Crabtree was dominant in the wild-card game against Green Bay (8 catches, 125 yards), and Boldin was dominant against Carolina (8 catches, 136 yards). Golden Tate and Doug Baldwin will have their chances Sunday to again prove people wrong. Again.
One thing that didn’t come up much during the week was Luke Willson’s starring role in the game at San Francisco. The rookie scored a 39-yard touchdown at San Francisco during the Seahawks’ Week 14 loss when he blew past linebacker Patrick Willis. It’s a back-pocket weapon for the Seahawks, who have plenty of counters to skilled 49ers tight end Vernon Davis.
Michael Bowie’s insertion at left guard in the divisional-round win over the New Orleans Saints has received positive reviews a week later. The Seahawks’ offensive line has been in flux throughout the season because of injury or poor play. The 49ers have two Pro Bowl picks — left tackle Joe Staley and left guard Mike Iupati — on what was widely regarded as the best offensive line in the football heading into the season.
The Seahawks wanted to fix this in the offseason and did. No team remaining in the playoffs has the versatility of the oft-rotating Seahawks defensive line. Red Bryant holds the edge against the run, Michael Bennett sprints toward the passer from that spot the next down. The 49ers have Justin Smith in the middle. He’s a force Max Unger will try to slow.
This is where the 49ers make their defensive mark. Patrick Willis, NaVorro Bowman, Aldon Smith and even Ahmad Brooks are notable skull-thumpers from this group. Bowman, in particular, has seismic interaction with Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch. The Seahawks are likely to have K.J. Wright back for this game, but their young group just isn’t on this level.
This is the Seahawks’ counter to the 49ers’ prowess at linebacker. With three players, Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor, named either first- or second-team All-Pro, the Seahawks have the best secondary in the league and by far the best secondary still playing. The 49ers have a big-hitting strong safety in Donte Whitner, who can also be prone to big mistakes.
The Seahawks used a record-setting punt coverage team as one of the main levers to employ their preferred approach of kick-cover-defend. The weather is supposed to be clear and calm Sunday, a drastic difference from the rain and strong wind of the divisional-round game. Seattle kicker Steven Hauschka is 36-for-38 (94.7 percent) on the season, earning the nickname “Hausch Money.” San Francisco kicker Phil Dawson is 6-for-6 in the postseason. He was also sharp during the regular season; two of his four misses came from farther than 50 yards.
This is a fun one, huh? Two guys who want their teams to essentially play the same way. In Doug Baldwin’s words, 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh is “more militaristic.” Pete Carroll? He’d make it through about half a day at basic training before being booted for pranks. Each team fully believes what their guy is selling.