By Steve Silverman
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On one side, you have the two superstar quarterbacks who will roll into the Hall of Fame and join the likes of John Unitas, Bart Starr, Dan Marino and Joe Montana.
Peyton Manning and Tom Brady are clearly football royalty.
On the other side, you see two sleek athletes who represent the NFL’s future. Colin Kaepernick has already been to one Super Bowl, while Russell Wilson is trying to get to his first.
Manning and his Broncos have been consistent from Week 1, and have earned their spot as the favored home team in the AFC Championship game. Brady and the Patriots have been resilient, overcoming the loss of two superstar tight ends, and numerous injuries on defense.
Both the Broncos and Patriots have written heroic scripts that will come to fruition if either team is lifting the Lombardi Trophy in the cold at MetLife Stadium on Feb. 2.
But don’t think for a minute that either of those stories are going to be the ones that will be told in big, bold type after Super Bowl XLVIII. One of those quarterbacks is going to leave New Jersey in a very disappointed manner.
Instead, one of the young NFC quarterbacks will be appearing on David Letterman and heading off to Disney World as the newest NFL hero.
This is an NFC kind of year. Both the 49ers and the Seahawks have the kind of physical and vicious defenses that are going to punish Brady or Manning. Think of Joe Frazier in his prime letting loose with a barrage of body shots. That’s what the NFC champions will do to one of these future Hall of Fame quarterbacks.
The real battle will take place in Seattle on Sunday night, where two teams that are near mirror images of each other will engage each other with hatred in their hearts.
That’s what the NFL will get because Jim Harbaugh can’t stand the sight of Pete Carroll, while Carroll would like nothing more than to embarrass Harbaugh.
Defense is going to dominate this game, and both teams have enough to come out on top. The 49ers have the best crew of linebackers in the league. Ahmad Brooks and Aldon Smith are going to rush the passer and put plenty of heat on Wilson. On the inside NaVorro Bowman and Patrick Willis are two of the best tacklers and hitters that can be found in pro football.
Bowman led the Niners in tackles with 145, and he should not be overlooked. He also had five sacks, four forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries, and the Seahawks have to be aware that any time Bowman is around, the ball may end up on the ground.
Seattle has its own wrecking crew. The Seahawks’ secondary is the best the coverage team in the NFL and the 1-2 punch of cornerback Richard Sherman and free safety Earl Thomas is going to be very hard for the Niners to beat. Sherman is a solid tackler, but it’s his coverage that is stellar as evidenced by his eight interceptions and 16 passes defensed. Thomas had five interceptions, eight passes defense and 105 tackles.
The Seahawks also have gotten a lift from middle linebacker Bobby Wagner, perhaps the most under-appreciated player in the NFL these days. Wagner led the Seahawks with 120 tackles and he also had five sacks. He goes sideline to sideline to make plays, and it will be his job to make sure Kaepernick does not run wild.
The Seahawks have been the lead dogs in the NFC throughout the season, largely because the Niners got off to a slow start by their recent standards. The primary reason behind the Niners’ meandering getaway was the ordinary play of Kaepernick. He was hesitant in both his running and passing through the middle of the season, but when the Niners lost back-to-back games to Carolina and New Orleans in Weeks 10 and 11, he stepped on the accelerator and picked up his game.
Wilson has been solid throughout the season, but there have been some troubling signs in recent weeks. he has thrown four touchdown passes and three interceptions over his last five games, while Kapernick has a 7-to-1 TD-interception ratio over his last five games.
That comparison should allow the 49ers to come into Seattle with some confidence, which is what they will need since they have been blown out badly in their last two games at CenturyLink Field.
This one will be a close one and the belief is that Steven Hauschka will win it with a late field goal and the Seahawks will celebrate on their home field.
The hype for Super Bowl XLVIII will begin minutes later. But that battle will be one-sided, and it will be an NFC kind of year.
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