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49ers and Seahawks clash Sunday for NFC title
By: Brian Graham - StatFox
Published: 1/19/2014  at  5:40:00 AM
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SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS (14-4)
at SEATTLE SEAHAWKS (14-3)

NFC Championship Game
Kickoff: Sunday, 6:30 p.m. ET
Line: Seattle -3.5, Total: 38.5

The 49ers look to secure a ninth straight victory and a second straight NFC Championship when they visit the division rival Seahawks on Sunday.

San Francisco is 0-5 ATS (1-4 SU) in the past five trips to Seattle, scoring less than 20 points each time (11.6 PPG). This includes a 29-3 blowout loss in Week 2 when the club committed an uncharacteristic five turnovers. But since that matchup, the Niners are 8-0-1 ATS (8-1 SU) in non-home games, and are outscoring these clubs by 14.0 PPG. And their current eight-game win streak includes a 19-17 win over the Seahawks when they nearly doubled Seattle's rushing yards (163 to 83). But the Seahawks are extremely tough to take down at home, going 8-1 SU (5-4 ATS) at CenturyLink Field this year, where they hold visitors to 13.9 PPG and 271 total YPG. There are plenty of positive betting trends for both teams in this matchup. Since 2011, San Francisco is 10-1 ATS when facing a top-level team (75%+ win pct.), outscoring these elite opponents by an average score of 29 to 18, and 17-8 ATS (68%) in road games, including 8-1 ATS on the road versus good passing teams (61%+ completion pct.). But NFL road underdogs of 3.5 to 10 points, coming off two straight road wins with a winning record, facing another winning team are just 5-24 ATS (17%) since 1983. Also, since Pete Carroll became the team's head coach in 2010, Seattle is 24-10 ATS (71%) at home and 15-4 ATS (79%) when revenging a loss against an opponent. Both teams have a couple of injury concerns for Sunday, as the 49ers could be without CB Carlos Rogers (hamstring) and FB Will Tukuafu (knee), while the Seahawks have two key contributors, WR Percy Harvin (concussion) and DT Jordan Hill (groin), who are listed as questionable.

Which excellent defense will lead its team to the Super Bowl? For the answer, connect to NFL Best Bets for all the StatFox Experts picks throughout the 2013 season and playoffs. The experts continue to roll in NFL Best Bets, combining for a 60% ATS record (72-49-9) since Week 10, including 72% ATS (28-11-2) since Week 16. StatFox Brian is 9-2-1 ATS in the past four weeks of Best Bets, has a 69% ATS (29-13-4) mark since Week 8, and is 60% ATS (40-27-6) this season. StatFox Scott is 59% ATS (32-22-2) in Best Bets since Week 4, and is also a robust 65% (24-13) in NFL Totals since Week 9. StatFox Gary's 3-0 ATS mark in Week 17 gave him seven perfect weeks in Best Bets since Week 4, and he is 65% ATS (15-8-2) in Best Bets since Week 10. These three experts have combined for a perfect 9-0 record in NFL Totals during the playoffs with Scott at 4-0, Brian at 3-0 and Gary at 2-0.

The 49ers don't have an explosive offense (25.1 PPG on 326 YPG), but they have been slightly better on the road where they average 26.0 PPG on 327 YPG. They prefer to utilize their impressive ground game that has compiled 139 rushing YPG on 4.4 YPC this year, but are also efficient throwing the football with 7.1 YPA. QB Colin Kaepernick is 3-0 in true road games in his postseason career, throwing for 656 yards (8.3 YPA) and 3 TD while rushing for 134 yards (7.9 YPC) and one touchdown, which came last week in Carolina. But he has not played well in three career starts against Seattle, completing just 50.5% of his passes for 546 yards (5.9 YPA), 2 TD and 5 INT. He has found some running room in this series though, with 149 yards on 25 carries (6.0 YPC). RB Frank Gore has faced the Seahawks 16 times in his long career, piling up 1,800 total yards and 5 TD, while rushing for a hefty 5.3 yards per carry. This includes 110 yards on just 17 attempts (6.5 YPC) when the teams met in Week 14, but he was held to 16 yards on nine carries in the Week 2 defeat in Seattle, showing that his performance will go a long way in determining the outcome of this game. If Gore cannot find any running room, San Francisco has plenty of talented receivers to move the chains through the air. WR Michael Crabtree was injured for that Week 2 loss, but was able to catch four passes in the Dec. 8 meeting. Crabtree also opened the playoffs with a huge performance in Green Bay (8 catches, 125 yards), while teammate WR Anquan Boldin did the heavy damage last week versus the Panthers with eight catches for 136 yards. Although Boldin's 93 receiving yards helped the Niners defeat the Seahawks in Week 14, he was nearly invisible in Seattle in Week 2, catching just one pass for seven yards. TE Vernon Davis has caught touchdown passes in 13 of his 17 games this season, including seven straight road games, but had 41 combined receiving yards and one touchdown in two meetings with the Seahawks this year. While the San Francisco offense has been up and down this year, the defensive unit has been consistently outstanding. For the season, the Niners allow just 16.8 PPG on 315 total YPG, holding opponents to 96 rushing YPG on 3.8 YPC, while limiting opposing quarterbacks to a 59.6% completion percentage, 219 passing YPG and 6.2 YPA. They have done a great job on third downs all season (34.8%), and their red-zone efficiency (50% TD rate) has been even better in the two playoff games (29% TD rate), thanks in part to nine postseason sacks, including 4.5 sacks from LB Ahmad Brooks. The unit has also forced at least two turnovers in 11-of-18 games this season, totaling 32 takeaways, but has forced exactly one Seahawks turnover in five straight meetings.

Seattle's offense has been slightly better than San Francisco this season with 25.9 PPG and 335 total YPG, but the teams have virtually the same amount of rushing yards (139 YPG) with the Seahawks averaging 4.3 yards per carry. Seattle's passing offense has been much more efficient than the Niners though with 63.0% completion rate and 7.6 YPA. QB Russell Wilson has had a stellar second season in the NFL with 26 TD passes and just 9 INT, but he was pretty quiet in last week's win versus New Orleans when he completed just 9-of-18 passes for 103 yards (5.7 YPA), 0 TD and 0 INT. He also struggled against San Francisco this season, completing just 23-of-44 passes (52%) for 341 yards (7.8 YPA), 2 TD and 2 INT in the two meetings. While he doesn't have a 1,000-yard receiver to rely on, WRs Golden Tate and Doug Baldwin are both reliable pass catchers, combining for 117 catches and 1,719 receiving yards this season with five touchdown catches each. Tate does a great job of turning short passes into long gains, as he led the NFL with 7.8 YAC per reception during the regular season. Baldwin is more of a field stretcher with 15.5 yards per reception, and he caught a 51-yard pass in the Week 2 win over the Niners. TE Zach Miller also has 5 TD grabs on the season, but caught just three passes for 35 yards in the two meetings with San Francisco and was held to one catch last week. But for this team to reach the Super Bowl, it will continue to ride RB Marshawn Lynch. The bruising back is one of the rare players that have had success against the 49ers, compiling 832 total yards and 7 TD in eight career meetings. This includes 316 rushing yards on 4.2 YPC and 6 total TD (4 rushing, 2 receiving) in three meetings at CenturyLink Field. In Week 2, Lynch burned San Francisco for 135 total yards and three touchdowns, and last week against the Saints, he rushed 28 times for 140 yards (5.0 YPC) and two scores. No defense was better than Seattle during the regular season, as the club led the NFL in total defense (274 YPG), scoring defense (14.4 PPG), passing defense (172 YPG) and red-zone efficiency (36% TD rate). This unit also placed seventh in the league in rushing defense, allowing 102 YPG on 3.9 YPC. Since surrendering 163 yards on 4.9 YPC against the Niners in Week 14, the Seahawks have limited the past four opponents to a meager 71 rushing YPG on 2.8 YPC. Turnovers have also been a staple of this defense, as it has racked up multiple takeaways in 12 of 17 games this season, forcing 40 turnovers overall (22 at home). This has been accomplished because of a lock-down secondary (CB Richard Sherman leads the league with 8 INT) and a pass rush generating 45 sacks.

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