Two of the most evenly matched teams in the NFL meet Sunday as the Seattle Seahawks host the San Francisco 49ers for the right to represent the NFC in Super Bowl XLVIII. The point spread reflects the parity, and our breakdown this week has reflected it as well. So what will decide the fray at Century Link Field on Sunday afternoon?
Seattle's Head Coach Pete Carroll has had his team playing all season as if it expects to win. The Seahawks have been the presumptive Super Bowl favorite since Week One's victory at Carolina. There have been slip-ups along the way, including an unheard of home loss to Arizona. The Seahawks have paid slip-ups no mind as they plan the Super Bowl victory parade through Pioneer Square, borne on the ebullient shoulders of the gum chomping Carroll.
San Francisco's Head Coach Jim Harbaugh has his team playing its best ball at the most important time of year. There have been slip-ups along the way, including twin back to back losses during the regular season. Harbaugh has kept his team's eyes on the prize, reminding them that they are the reigning conference champs, and ought to play like it.
Which coach you prefer depends entirely on your allegiance. Fans of the 49ers decry Carroll's collegiate style as phony. Fans of the Hawks dislike Harbaugh for what they see as a certain whininess on game day. Save for Carroll's struggles in his earlier NFL foray as New England's Head Coach (and that was a lifetime ago in football time) there is nothing in either coach to make them appear to be less than the other.
Which means that the game will likely be decided by the intangibles. What are the intangibles that could come into play?
1.) The Weather: Though these teams are as used to windy conditions as any teams in football, poor weather is more likely to favor the home team. Current forecasts, though, call for a kickoff temperature of 49 degrees with winds from left to right on your television screen at four mph.
2.) The Crowd: When the 12th Man gets rolling it descends on the opposing teams like a tangible weight. The 49ers have played in loud stadiums before but have not handled Seattle's home field advantage well in recent games. A fast start, always a preferable event, is essential to the 49er cause. If the Niners fall well behind, and the howling banshees find full voice, it could get ugly for the visitors from the Bay Area.
3.) Turnovers: An overwhelming majority of playoff victories go to the team that wins the turnover battle. If San Francisco is +2 in turnovers this Sunday, they will win. If the Seahawks are +1 they will likely win.
So who will win? And who will cover the point spread? Las Vegas opened a line on this game with Seattle as a three-point pick. That line moved to 3.5 and has been stable for five days. The view from here is that the line looks pretty good, but the 49ers and their struggles at Century Link Field make it hard to select them to win, though they may lose by three and cover the number. Let's call it a lean toward Seattle and their first trip to the Super Bowl since being taken down by Pittsburgh in Super Bowl XL.
The game can be seen on your Fox Sports affiliate coast to coast. Kickoff is scheduled for 3:35 p.m. PST.