Always leave your audience wanting more. Blimey, the NFL has failed miserably on that score this weekend.
What have they done? I've never known the respective title games to be so anticipated, to be so...so...y'know, in an ‘is-it-only-Wednesday-is-it-really-only-Thursday' sense. There's very little to look forward to after this. Ever, it seems.
Even from this side of the pond, I can't help but feel that not even the Super Bowl will generate such hyperbole. And that's saying something.
Imagine the smug head nodding at the beginning of this week: "...boys, can you believe this? Just look who's left."
"Yeah, that's great, Larry. Only, what the hell ya gonna do after the weekend's over? The flamin' Super Bowl will probably be postponed for a week ‘cos of the elements. This is it. We're at the summit. Nothing good comes after that. You can only look down from the top for one good reason. That's your next step. Go ahead, after you. No, I insist."
The league created its own monster many moons ago and this coming Sunday represents the behemoth fully developing the second head.
This is as good as the NFL could ever have hoped for on Conference Championship weekend. To crowbar in an early gambling reference, if I may, Will Brinson of CBS Sports was the first being to remind me (via Twitter, may I add) that the four remaining teams were the top four teams in Super Bowl betting during the preseason. I have no idea if that's a first, but, for the sake of this column, let's pretend that it is. If anybody wishes to actually find that out, I'd be a) eternally grateful and b) mightily envious of the time you have at your disposal.
Two first ballot Hall of Famers square off early on. Two wannabe first ballot Hall of Famers square off later on. Injury permitting, whatever the outcome of either game on Sunday, the 48th instalment of the Super Bowl guarantees (classic) quarterback old versus (dynamic) quarterback new. Even if the unthinkable should happen, February 2 still promises much. It hurts to say that, but it's pretty inescapable.
To continue that thread for a second, San Francisco has what every playoff team craves...momentum. They're hot. Unfortunately, they're hot. Unfortunately for them, their next sixty minutes of football takes place in Seattle. In Seattle, in the very same stadium that's seen them outscored 71-16 over the last two games they've played there.
I would like to take you back to what I wrote in the lead up to the Jaguars coming to Seattle in Week 3 this season. Yes, that does sound out of place right now, but please excuse the slight indulgence here as it is relevant. Here goes:
‘So, I was already all over Jacksonville +14.5 before last Sunday [49ers at home], was I? I should've waited, trusting the Seahawks to do their home field advantage number on Kaepernick an' co...again. I can't shake the thought that, even before our bicep kissing little puppy is barely two steps into his NFL career, whether the 12th Man has already stolen a march on his psyche and has him going cold at the prospect of walking out on to the turf at the CLink.'
Bold words indeed and I didn't write them ever expecting myself to doubt them this quickly. I do, though. Damn that. That said...
You undoubtedly will have read by now all about Kaepernick's two outings in Seattle thus far so I won't feed you the associated stats. Despite that, it is easy to be uneasy at the prospect of the 49ers coming to town this week. What shouldn't be discounted though is that for all of the swagger they've shown on the road in Green Bay and Carolina, the only feeling known to Kaepernick when he plays in Seattle is that of heavy defeat. He won't be forgetting any of that in the build up to this one. He hates playing here and will be the most nervous of any Niner in the building. Some won't fear a single thing; Kaepernick will.
I think you've probably heard enough from me on this one. OK, one final thing. If Kaepernick does prove me wrong and the 49ers advance, then he would've completed a masterful conquering of his fear. I would ordinarily end that with ‘good luck to him', but that'd be ridiculous.
On to the nuts and bolts of this piece, shall we?
At the time of writing (Thursday evening GMT), Seattle can be backed -3 while San Francisco are available +3.5, including with our partners at oddsshark.com. This has pretty much been the case ever since events concluded in Carolina last Sunday and it's difficult to envisage there being any deviation from the current line. Should any oddsmaker push the Niners out to +4, then expect a ton of money so it wouldn't last very long anyway.
This is about as good a time as any to reintroduce to you Walter Cherepinsky of walterfootball.com. Walt's not really had much to say on Seahawks related matters recently, but, this week, he can't get enough of them. Simply put, he's enamoured, believing a truer line to be Seattle -6.5. I also like his take on Russell Wilson. Here's a peek:
‘...by the way everyone's been talking, you'd think he [Wilson] was the worst quarterback ever. He went just 9-of-18 for 103 yards in the divisional round, which has every single analyst on TV up in arms. Wilson definitely wasn't at his best in the victory over the Saints, but how could he be considering the conditions were extremely rainy and windy, and he lost his No. 1 receiver in the second quarter? Wilson is still one of the NFL's top quarterbacks. He's at his best in the clutch...'
And with regards the spread:
‘This spread is way off because the public loves the visitor...my numbers indicate Seattle should be laying 6.5 points. The home field advantage is worth five points on its own and I'd estimate the Seahawks are 1.5 points better than the 49ers. Even if you consider them even, Seattle should be -5.'
I feel lazy for just offering up words penned by somebody else, so my apologies, but they're points I thought you may have more than a passing interest in.
While Seattle were, on most sportsbooks, -8 versus the Saints last week, they were still available -7.5 come kickoff so, those of you with the nerve to trust the home favourite were rewarded as the Seahawks crawled in through the back door; that half point cover gives Seattle a 10-4 record ATS as a home favourite in the RWE.
Last week...hmmm...the Seahawks were way better than a half point cover on an eight point spread. I've watched the game twice since on Game Pass, once in its entirety and once in its condensed version. The latter gives you the bang! bang! bang! No let up, no break. Hark at me, like you didn't already know that.
I only mention that because the greatest surprise came from the fact that, despite viewing the game for a second time over the hours it ordinarily takes, Seattle's dominance, when watched over 30 minutes, becomes even more remarkably obvious. This was a 20 point victory based upon what almost happened...Robert Turbin's run brought back, the two non-interceptions in the fourth quarter, to name but three annoyances.
For those of you with an interest in betting trends, a bit of a corker is the nugget that, including the playoffs, the Seahawks are now 6-0 ATS as a single digit home favourite in the RWE. Here's the breakdown:
Week 9, 2012: -4 vs. Vikings WON 30-20
Week 10, 2012: -5.5 vs. Jets WON 28-7
Week 16, 2012: -0.5 vs. 49ers WON 42-13
Week 2, 2013: -2.5 vs. 49ers WON 29-3
Week 13, 2013: -5.5 vs. Saints WON 34-7
Div. Play, 2013: -7.5 vs. Saints WON 23-15
The small matter of two covers against San Francisco as the filling in the 6-0 sandwich makes for very pretty reading and not just to those who want to lay down their hard earned on Seattle this week. The Seahawks don't even need to cover to send all of us out the door on Monday morning with not a second of sleep behind us.
The 49ers have been road ‘dogs three times this season and, somewhat curiously, the line was three points each time...in Seattle, New Orleans and Arizona, the latter of which came just six days after they were 14 point favourites in Atlanta. Oh, the angry, thrashing beauty of the spread.
Some of you may have noticed the slight anomaly in me listing the Niners +2.5 points in Week 2 of this season and the previous paragraph noting they were three point underdogs in the same game. I've gleaned San Fran's season lines straight from vegasinsider.com. The Seahawk spreads are something I keep a tight eye on, to the half point. The other teams in the league don't matter one jot...until I need to write about them, of course.
Another curiosity is that not only are the 49ers playing their fourth consecutive road game this week, but that they've scored 23 points in each of those previous three games. Seattle's only conceded 23 points or more at home just twice in the *RWE...when beating the Patriots 24-23 last season and the Buccaneers 27-24 (OT) this year.
*Russell Wilson's name being attached to what happens on defense is hardly fair play as he contributes precisely zero to that side of the ball (go on, somebody tell me that his play does have an indirect effect) so I use the acronym purely as a point of reference...and I think it kinda works.
I began writing this on Wednesday evening and have gotten up early on Saturday morning to complete these ramblings, actually fully expecting to be able to write about Percy Harvin's role in the offense. Having not checked Field Gulls before retiring on Friday night, I decided it was best to correct that upon waking. Sodding hell, no Percy.
The most galling aspect is Pete Carroll saying that Harvin wants to play. I'm a little devastated. He's not just a football player, he's an athlete. He moves so damn fluidly, he's feline. Seattle's offense needs him, and badly, we all know that, but they don't rely on him because they haven't had to and that's about all we can take from this.
I wrote last week that should Harvin be healthy for the whole of next year, there's no reason for us not to believe that we can't be in this same position come the playoffs next season. I even chucked in that it could be against the Rams. Why not? Hang on, Harvin may yet play for us this season.
Offsetting Harvin's absence is the return of K.J. Wright. I really feared we'd miss him desperately against Jimmy Graham last week. My, I really do know nothing about football.
Wright's presence and ability in coverage is pivotal against a San Francisco receiving corps boasting Vernon Davis and Anquan Boldin. The 49ers haven't had the luxury of picking their poison this week, it's been placed on their tongue for them; they'll be pumped at news of Harvin, gnarling at news of Wright.
Seattle may not have been in position to host the NFC Championship if not for the ridiculous contribution of one Marshawn Terrell Lynch last week. He was simply phenomenal against New Orleans, practically unplayable, and he did literally carry the team on his own. He never once seems bothered by this and just revels in defenders attempting to bring him down.
San Francisco's holding teams to under 100 yards rushing per game over the course of the season, but expect the Seahawks to ram it down the 49ers' throats nonetheless. The visitors will be expecting it, Lynch relishing it. I've got goosebumps.
Reading some of the comments on Field Gulls this week has proved especially enlightening. Perfectly sane human beings reverting to the identical pattern of life as last week, so as not to upset the rhythm, the flow. I've been the same and even my schadenfreude reflex has been disabled this week. Don't give karma one single reason to turn around and smile at you on Sunday. Not until all of this is over.
Yesterday, however, I did a very, very stupid thing, something I shouldn't really be confessing to, if I'm honest. I was about to finish work for the weekend...
...by the way, upon leaving the office on Friday evening, the small thought struck me that the next time I step foot back in there on Monday, I'll know whether or not the Seahawks are in the Super Bowl. It'll be a completely different mood, good or bad.
Right, I was about to finish work, but before I did, I thought I'd empty the bin next to me. Again, it's all about the karma. Be the good citizen, the kind citizen. I then seized my opportunity. I was holding a small, rolled up piece of paper, the bin was two feet away and pretty full. Still, there were gaps in there, gaps big enough to accommodate the small missile in my hand.
I thought that cruel thought...if it goes in, Seattle goes to the Super Bowl. If it misses, they don't.
It was a good throw, a solid, sound throw. It was on target. It hit the target. And bounced out.
Please gamble responsibly.
- Reloaded: That one time I had to tackle Marshawn Lynch: A true ass atory
- Seahawks vs. Niners NFC Championship: Under the radar players that could impact the game
- Seahawks injury report: Percy Harvin out Sunday; K.J. Wright will play
- Seahawks vs. 49ers, NFC Championship: Russell Wilson's recent inaccuracy and indecisiveness
- Seahawks vs. 49ers NFC Championship game: A scouting report on the 49ers' defense, via Niners Nation