It’s really not even that close. The power in the NFL this season clearly lies out West.
While the two regular-season games between the budding rivals were riveting, they will feel like an appetizer when the main course arrives today at 3:30 p.m. in the NFC Championship Game.
It’s Jim Harbaugh vs. Pete Carroll. It’s Kaepernicking vs. Beast Mode. It’s sourdough vs. Starbucks. It’s a matchup that seemed inevitable since the final whistle blew in last year’s Super Bowl.
The 49ers and Seahawks didn’t even wait till the season began to try and one-up the other. There was a chess match played in the offseason.
When the Seahawks traded for receiver Percy Harvin in March, the 49ers answered by acquiring their own high-profile receiver in Anquan Boldin from the Baltimore Ravens. Other players were let go by one team, only to be scooped up by the other. Coincidence? Maybe, but probably not. More like gamesmanship between two franchises that have gone from bottom-feeders to contenders in the past five years.
The best part about this rivalry is that it isn’t manufactured, like baseball tries to do with teams in interleague play. What, the Atlanta Braves and Toronto Blue Jays don’t scream rivals?
Rivalries manifest themselves on the field of play. That’s clearly the case with the 49ers and Seahawks, who both feature ferocious defenses, strong-minded coaches and players who talk as good of a game as they play.
“There’s no question there’s a lot of hostility between us, but at the end of the day they’re another football team,” 49ers linebacker Patrick Willis said this week. “So, there’s always going to be dislikes.”
Recent history in games played in Seattle would seem to favor the host Seahawks. By now, the 71-16 combined score of the past two 49ers losses in the Northwest has been pounded into our heads like the alphabet.
But this one feels different. The 49ers are playing with a swagger that has helped them reel off eight straight wins. They took the initial onslaught from the Carolina Panthers last week and didn’t back down, instead dominating the second half.
You can expect a similar wave of emotion from the Seahawks and the 12th Man to start today’s game. Thanks to last year’s playoff experience, however, the 49ers seem more equipped to handle it this time. It’s a game that should go down to the wire, and don’t be surprised if 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick finds a way to pull it out in the end.
However it turns out, it’s the matchup everyone wanted to see. The best two teams in the NFC playing for the right to go to the Super Bowl. That doesn’t happen often in the parity-driven NFL of today.
The best part? It’s likely only the first round in what could be an epic heavyweight playoff fight for years to come.
Dylan Kruse is the sports editor of The San Francisco Examiner. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter @dylan_kruse.