|NaVarro Bowman and Patrick Willis are the most feared linebacker tandem in the NFL|
San Francisco 49ers (12-4) @ Seattle Seahawks (13-3)
6.30 PM (ET) Kick Off
These two fierce division rivals square off in the north west as the 49ers look to end their recent jinx at CenturyLink Field. After two heavy defeats there in recent years Colin Kaepernick and co will have taken heart form beating the Seahawks at Candlestick Park in week 14, although they’ll be well aware that winning in Seattle is an entirely different challenge. Seahawks coach Pete Carroll has multiple college national championships to his name however he’s yet to grace the Superbowl as a coach and this is as good an opportunity as he’ll get with Seattle having comfortably securing the number one seed in the NFC. San Francisco coach Jim Harbaugh has led the niners to three consecutive NFC Championship games including last years in Atlanta which they won to progress to the Superbowl. After losing to his brother John and his Ravens in New Orleans Harbaugh will be desperate to get back to the big game and earn his family’s second Championship ring.
When San Francisco has the ball..
49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick has earned himself a reputation as a cold blooded killer in the play-offs and rightfully so after some superb performances both this year and last. A threat with his legs, Kaepernick also possesses elite arm strength and can make all the throws despite some slightly flawed mechanics. The read option is a big part of the San Francisco offense and Kaepernick is the perfect man for the role, having orchestrated a similar attack while in college at Nevada.
Frank Gore has carried the bulk of the rushing load for the 49ers for a few years now and the powerful runner once again topped 1,000 yards in 2013. Kaepernick himself rushed for 524 yards and between the two of them Kaepernick and Gore scored 13 touchdowns on the ground. Anquan Boldin was a fantastic addition in the off-season and his 85 receptions and 7 touchdowns justified Harbaugh’s faith in the former Cardinal and Raven. Michael Crabtree is another weapon in the passing game and although he missed the majority of the regular season he’s back and healthy just in time to help the 49ers during their play-off run. Tight end Vernon Davis might actually be the fastest player on the offense and his presence helps make opposing defenses respect the deep ball.
Richard Sherman talks a good game and the Seattle corner has backed up his words with stellar play in the last couple of seasons, blanketing opposing receivers despite often being marooned in one on one coverage. Safety Earl Thomas is a hard hitting tackler and he could well draw Davis in man coverage, while linebackers Bobby Wagner and Cam Chancellor will be tasked with keeping Kaepernick in the pocket and not allowing him to make too many plays with his legs. On the whole the entire Seattle defense has star quality and co-ordinator Dan Quinn has done a great job of carrying on where his predecessor and current Jaguars head coach Gus Bradley left off.
When Seattle has the ball..
Russell Wilson has taken the league by storm since he was promoted to start at quarterback by coach Pete Carroll before last season, although it’s worth noting he’s rarely asked to win games with his arm. He’s afforded that luxury because Marshawn Lynch is one of the most punishing and durable backs in football and Lynch was able to tote the rock 301 times during the regular season for over 1,200 yards and 12 touchdowns. Lynch had a further 28 carries last week against New Orleans and his 140 yards and two scores were crucial to the Seahawks victory and progression to face the rival 49ers. He’ll have even more work to do tonight with receiver Percy Harvin ruled out with a concussion.
The San Francisco defense is based around the sideline to sideline tackling ability of inside linebackers Patrick Willis and NaVarro Bowman, who had 249 tackles, eight sacks and six forced fumbles between them during the regular season. Donte Whitner is another punishing tackler on the 49ers defense and rookie safety Eric Reid has shown the ability to play centre field against the pass. While it may sound simplistic this game could come down to how well Willis and Bowman can contain Lynch and if they do whether or not Wilson can carry the Seahawks and win the game with his arm and legs.
San Francisco kicker Phil Dawson has been one of the steadier kickers in the NFL for a while now, although he lacks the necessary leg strength to nail kicks from much more than 50 yards. The 49ers also have one of the better punters going in the form of Andy Lee.
Seahawks kicker Steven Hauschka had a great year in 2013, making 14 of 15 field goals from over 40 yards although Seattle punter Jon Ryan was less reliable and had two punts blocked during the regular season. One more stat for you: neither team returned a punt or kickoff for a touchdown nor had one returned against them for a score during the season.
49ers cornerback Carlos Rodgers (hamstring) and fullback Will Tukafu (knee) are questionable, while linebacker Ahmad Brooks (illness) is probable to play.
Seahawks receiver Percy Harvin (concussion) is out. Linebacker K.J Wright is probable to play after recovering from a broken foot, according to head coach Pete Carroll.
The forecast is for overcast skies with a slim chance of rain and a temperature of around 48 degrees.