Monday, January 13, 2014

NFC Championship Game Preview

Seattle Seahawks Running Back Marshawn Lynch will need to dominate the 49ers defense like he did to the Saints for his team to win. 

San Francisco 49ers (14-4) @ Seattle Seahawks (14-3)
This will be a rematch of the best rivalry in today's Football, the two teams played earlier this year in Seattle with the Seahawks stomping San Francisco 27-3, however, the Niners were missing their best pass-catcher, Michael Crabtree, the two teams played again in San Francisco (with Crabtree this time,) and the 49ers won that game 19-16. Both teams boast top-3 defenses, and both have had their struggles on offense. 
Here are 3 keys for each team:
3 keys to the game for Seattle 
1. Can Marshawn Lynch get something going against the San Francisco front 4? 
Seahawks Running Back Marshawn Lynch was absolutely unstoppable Saturday against the Saints, racking up 140 yards on 28 carries along with two touchdowns. However, the 49ers are one of the best run-stopping teams in Football. Lynch is the most important player in Seattle's offense, so it will be crucial to get him going early.

2. Get Percy Harvin involved 
Seahawks receiver Percy Harvin is one of the best Wide Receivers in the league when healthy, but he is very injury-prone, Harvin played in his first game since Week 11 of the regular season (and just his second game all year) in the teams 23-15 win over New Orleans, but he was more of a decoy than a play-maker, catching just 3 passes for 21 yards and taking 1 handoff on a trick play for 9 yards. Harvin did not look %100, more like 80-85, but I expect him to be a lot closer to %100 this week now that he has experience with Quarterback Russell Wilson, look for Wilson to target him a little more and for him (Harvin) to get involved in more running trick plays. 

3. Take away Colin Kaepernick's running lanes 
San Francisco 49ers Quarterback Colin Kaepernick's running ability has been instrumental in his teams two playoff wins this year, and he is very hard to prepare for because he can beat with a 50-yard pas or a 50-yard run on any given play. Kaepernick's one flaw is that if you can put pressure on him he'll force a pass that can be easily intercepted, look for Seattle to attempt to blitz early to get Kaepernick out of rhythm.

Here are 3 keys to the game for San Francisco: 
1. Can the defense contain Marshawn Lynch?
As mentioned above Marshawn Lynch was unstoppable against the Saints, and he'll be looking to replicate that performance against San Francisco. So it's up to a defensive front four that includes both Justin Smith and Aldon Smith, to go with linebackers Patrick Willis NaVarro Bowman. With such an exceptional group of defensive players for San Francisco, it will be extremely difficult game for Lynch to dominate the game. 

2. Can Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman keep the defense guessing? 
It will be up to 49ers Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman to use a wide variety of plays (run, pitch, draw, play action, read option etc.) to keep the Seattle defense guessing. If San Francisco can mix up offensive plays accordingly, it will give them a much better shot at pulling off the upset. 

3. Can Jim Harbaugh keep his cool?
Seriously, I'm wondering, if the teams Super Bowl hopes depended on it, could he? (Nope, as we witnessed in the form of an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty in a close game last week against Carolina.)

The X Factor: Offense
While both teams are known for having top-tier defenses, who wins will likely boil down to who performs better on the offensive side of the ball. I think with a trio of Kaepernick, Frank Gore, and Michael Crabtree, the 49ers have the more, er, explosive offense, though neither is among the leagues best in that phase of the game.

The Verdict: 
Marshawn Lynch dominates early, and Seattle jumps out to a 13-6 halftime lead. Colin Kaepernick then shows why experience DOES matter in today's NFL and the Niners come back to win it.
Final Score: Seattle 16 San Francisco 20

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