Sunday's NFC championship will be the matchup we've all been expecting since the start of the season, with the absence of a few short weeks early on when we thought the Saints were going to be Seattle's main rival. Everything we've seen in the NFC has led to this point, and while Seattle remains the favorite, no team is entering this weekend with a stronger body of recent work than the 49ers.
We're in the era where every game turns on the play of its quarterback, and this one will be no exception. Colin Kaepernick and Russell Wilson may not be the next Brady-Manning duel for the ages, but they'll do for right now. As these two go, so go their teams.
Defensively, these two are strength against strength. Seattle is the top-ranked defense in the game, while San Francisco ranks fifth. That's not quite a wash, but it's close enough that both teams are going to need their biggest offensive weapons to push their respective envelopes.
And this is where it gets very tricky for San Francisco. One of the playoff keys for Kaepernick will be keeping within himself and minimizing his own mistakes. Kaepernick is far more of an up-and-down player than Wilson, and his lows run much lower than Wilson's.
Thus, Kaepernick is going to need to spread the assault. With a strong running game and a resurgent Michael Crabtree, Kaepernick has options. But it's Anquan Boldin will be a key weapon for Kaepernick, and if the two are able to connect on some big-yardage or drive-sustaining plays, that will help mitigate any damage that Kaepernick does himself.
“Anquan Boldin is a valuable, valuable player and every player should aspire and practice and play the game of football like Anquan Boldin,” Jim Harbaugh said during one of his media sessions this week. “It doesn’t take guys long to see that. It's not saying anything, it's the actions of him doing. And yeah, you’d be pretty unaware not to notice it right away.”
Boldin has only played in 18 games for the 49ers, but the 11-year vet has established himself as one of the premier go-to guys on a stacked offense. He averaged almost 74 yards a game this season, scoring 7 touchdowns and keying drive after drive.
He's also jumped right into the Seattle-San Francisco rivalry, jawing with Seahawks corner Richard Sherman in both of their matchups this season. Expect more of the same on Sunday.
"You respect each other as foes, but there is really a dislike," Boldin said of the teams' rivalry. “For us we play football and let the refs do what they do.” Boldin was able to keep his head last weekend while the Panthers were losing theirs, and as a result came away with the victory.
This weekend won't go the same way; Seattle's a tougher opponent than Carolina, and less likely to lose its cool. If San Francisco has any hope of advancing to its second straight Super Bowl, Boldin and the rest of the 49ers will have to come up bigger than they have all season.
Gametime: 6:30pm ET, FOX
Prediction: Seattle 31, San Francisco 24