San Francisco 49ers @ Seattle Seahawks
Kick Off - Sunday, 23.30
Live on Sky Sports
Seattle have been my confident pick to win the Superbowl since Week Four of the season, and so I see no reason to change my mind now. In fact, to me, the Seattle versus Denver final looked to have been written in the stars long ago. Both those teams arguably deserve to get there, having been the dominant forces in their respective conferences. I also think it would make for the most interesting Superbowl match-up, by pitting the best defensive team against the best on offense.
To get there though, the Seahawks must first overcome the San Francisco 49ers, who with a record of 12-4, finished just one win behind Seattle in the NFC West. The 49ers are tough, especially on defense, where they rank fifth in the NFL. They've also built-up significant momentum, by winning six in a row to end the regular season, followed by road wins over Green Bay and Carolina in the play-offs.
So the 49ers couldn't have done much more to impress over the past two months. Their results have been faultless and they've kept their key-players fit. In fact, the 49ers squad has actually got stronger of late, thanks to the return of wide-receiver Michael Crabtree, who was described by Head Coach Jim Harbaugh as being the greatest catcher in the NFL, ever! Now that's some accolade. But whether you believe it or not, there's no denying that Crabtree has been impressive since returning from injury. He marked his comeback with a stunning 60-yard reception against St Louis in Week 13. And since then, the receiver has yet to be on the losing side, having played in seven straight wins.
I've made no secret of my belief that San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick is not as good as many people believe he is, and that he'll be exposed before the season's end. For me, he's a good running QB with a decent, but not great, throwing arm. But that doesn't matter so much when you have a receiving trio of Crabtree, Anquan Boldin and Vernon Davis. Between the three of them, one of these receivers usually manages to get free, meaning Kaepernick almost always has someone to go to. Throw-in the league's third best running-offense, led by Frank Gore, and you can understand how the 49ers got this far.
But having built-up San Francisco's chances, I'm now going to knock them down. And to understand why, let's just look at their recent meetings with the Hawks. In Week Three of this season, the teams met in Seattle, with the Seahawks romping home 29-3 and Colin Kaepernick held to just 127 passing yards. Seattle QB Russell Wilson didn't fair much better, but then he didn't need to. The difference between the sides was the four turnovers forced by Seattle's D, plus the 98 yard, two touchdown performance of Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch.
Seattle's defense is immense, the best in the league. It ranks seventh against the run, but it's the Seahawk's league-leading pass-defense that really impresses. All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman heads the Seattle secondary, described by Drew Brees as "a bunch of ball hawks". And with a league-leading 28 interceptions, you can understand why.
Seattle's other big strength is their running game. The Seahawks like to establish the run early on, and then ram it down opponents' throats until they choke. Marshawn Lynch is the spearhead of that attack. And so that makes him a stand-out bet to score the first touchdown this Sunday, just as he did last week against New Orleans, and in that Week Three win over the 49ers.
Lynch also scored the opening touchdown in this season's other meeting between these teams. That 19-17 home win for San Francisco came in Week 14, and saw both quarterbacks again held to less than 200 yards. The 49ers pinched victory on a late field goal, and that, combined with their subsequent form, has got many people believing they can win this weekend.
But they won't, and here's why. Firstly, that game was played at Candlestick Park. But Sunday's game will be in Seattle, where the Seahawks have the advantage of the 12th man - the raucous Seattle home crowd. And secondly, the Seahawks didn't take that Week 14 game seriously. They didn't need to. Just seconds before kick-off in that narrow defeat, Richard Sherman could be heard telling his teammates "This is just a glorified practice." Rest assured, the Seattle battle-cry will be much more inspiring this time round, as will their performance. The Seahawks have beaten the 49ers in their last two meetings at CenturyLink Field by a combined score of 71-16. And I expect Pete Carroll's side to make it three in a row, by notching-up yet another double-digits win.
Seattle (-4) to win @ 2.001/1 (Sportsbook)
Seattle (-10) to win @ 3.309/4 (Sportsbook)
Seattle to win HT/FT @ 2.1211/10
Marshawn Lynch to score first touchdown @ 6.005/1 or better
Marshawn Lynch to score anytime touchdown @ 1.664/6 or better
First touchdown to be running TD @ 2.001/1 or better