If everything else is equal, take the best quarterback and the best coaches.
So the San Francisco 49ers will beat the Seattle Seahawks in Sunday’s NFC Championship Game. They have a better head coach. They have a better quarterback.
It’s a remarkable matchup – one NFL fans anticipated since last season. The Seahawks and the 49ers, the two best teams in the NFL, playing for a right to win the Super Bowl. Two teams that mirror each other – powerful, intimidating defenses; offenses built on the running game; young, athletic quarterbacks; outstanding special teams; antagonistic coaches.
It’s a tough pick – and the fact that the game is in Seattle, with it’s vaunted “12th man” crowd, led oddsmakers to establish the Seahawks a 3½-point favorite.
The 49ers will win.
They’ll win because the defenses will offset each other. Each will make it impossible for the opposing offense to mount long scoring drives and each will likely force at least one turnover.
The special teams will offset each other, too. And the running games – with Marshawn Lynch the point man behind Seattle’s offensive line, Frank Gore running behind San Francisco’s – will be about equal as they try to wear down the opposing defense (good luck with that) and take over in the fourth quarter.
So it will come down to big plays. And that comes down to quarterbacks and the coaches, where San Francisco has the advantage.
If you’d said that about the quarterbacks two months ago, you would have run into opposition. Russell Wilson, the Seahawks quarterback, was seen as the athletic, smart signal-caller who was perfectly poised to win a championship. Colin Kaepernick of the 49ers was struggling to find his way.
But things have changed as the Niners got back a full complement of receivers and Wilson began to regress.
The past several weeks revealed Kaepernick as reliable to break off a big run or hit a receiver well down field. In fact, during the Niners’ eight-game winning streak, nearly every game has featured a few such plays instigated by the quarterback. Against the Seahawks, two or three of them will be enough to win – because Wilson seems to have lost his ability to match that by springing his own big plays.
Similarly, the 49ers coaching staff – particularly head coach Jim Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Greg Roman – consistently find ways to break out new formations and plays that surprise opposing defenses. Pete Carroll and his Seattle staff are great defensive coaches, but lack the kind of offensive creativity needed to find big plays against an elite defense.
Expect the NFC Championship game to be a brutal, defensive game where field position and turnovers are important.
But expect a few big offensive plays to change everything: Plays orchestrated by the better coaches and the better quarterback.
Kaepernick and Harbaugh’s staff will leave Seahawks fans sleepless in Seattle.
49ers 23, Seahawks 16.
Reach Brad Stanhope at 427-6958 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/bradstanhope.