We are on the cusp of the most anticipated game on the early part of the NFL schedule with the San Francisco 49ers traveling to the Seattle Seahawks. These two NFC West foes are two of the favorites to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl this upcoming February. It is funny that just several seasons ago the NFC West was the laughing stock of the NFL and now it is easily the cream of the crop.
These two teams have developed an intense rivalry over the last couple of seasons, as they both make strides to becoming NFL powerhouses. Their rivalry is easily the best in the league right, despite ESPN force feeding you the NFC East or Steelers versus Ravens. It comes down to several factors as to why this rivalry is the best in the NFL.
The rivalry starts from the top, as the two head coaches have a pretty chippy relationship from their meetings in the Pac-10 at Stanford and USC. Jim Harbaugh started at Stanford prior to the 2007 season and made waves with some comments during the Pac-10 preseason media day. Harbaugh stated that he thought the 2007 USC Trojans “may be the best team in college football history.” Then at the beginning of October, the Cardinal knocked off the #1 Trojans on the road with a last minute touchdown pass from Tavita Pritchard.
Then two years later came the “what’s your deal” game, as the Cardinal upended the Trojans with a 55-21 victory at the Coliseum. Harbaugh instructed his team to go for a two point conversion following their seventh touchdown already leading 48 to 21. They would fail to convert, but would score one more time before the end of the game. The presumed piling on irked Pete Carroll, who asked Harbaugh, “what’s your deal?” at midfield during their post game handshake.
These two coaches are very similar in their demeanor, as they both coach with enthusiasm and passion. Harbaugh is fiery, passionate competitor that thrives off of competition and will do anything in his power to win a game. Carroll puts up a facade that his is a cool and innocent person, but deep down his a just like Harbaugh. These two coaches harbor a deep dislike of each other, despite their efforts to downplay their personal rivalry to maintain the focus on their teams.
After the two coaches, comes the players. These two teams are mirror images of each other. They are two physical teams that places an emphasis on big, physical players. Their size and physicality leads to their offensive philosophies, as they both lean on their running games to set the tone. These two teams finished third and fourth in the NFL in total rushing yards, as they combined for over 5,000 yards on the ground.
They also feature two of the most impressive young quarterbacks in Colin Kaepernick and Russell Wilson. Both players are highly athletic and put pressure on the defense with their ability to move the ball with their legs, but they are also highly adept passers that make them true dual threats to give opposing defenses nightmares. The rivalry between these two quarterbacks has the potential to take on a Peyton Manning versus Tom Brady type of rivalry, as two of the top quarterbacks on the top two teams battle it out on a yearly basis to be the NFL’s elite team.
On defense, they are both amongst the elite of the NFL, but they have two different philosophies. The Niners place an emphasis on size in their front seven and speed in their defensive backfield. The Niners attempt to make teams one-dimensional, as they take away a teams ability to run the ball. That allows them to be aggressive with their pass rush and create pressure and force turnovers.
The Seahawks on the other hand prefer to have size in the secondary and put speed along their front seven. They are a highly aggressive and physical unit. Their defensive backs love to get their hands on opposing receivers and lock them up to create time for their pass rushers to get to quarterback. The Seattle defensive backfield is possibly the best in the NFL. Their physical backfield helps on stopping the run, as they are not afraid to step up and lay the lumber.
The NFL personnel decision makers in Trent Baalke and Harbaugh have a very similar make up as Seattle’s John Schneider, Scot McLoughan, and Carroll. They both have had an exceptional run in their draft and free agent scouting in recent seasons, which could lead to these teams stockpiling talent and reloading yearly instead of rebuilding every several years.
The fact that these two teams are in the same division and look to be the top two teams in the NFC West for the foreseeable future plays a major role in their rivalry. These teams are in a constant battle to be the best and being the best means getting past the other. The winner of the division is going to be a top seed in the conference, which adds to the meaning of each match-up.
These two teams are going to be legitimate championship contenders for the near future and have the potential of becoming nemesis, much like the Niners and Cowboys in the 90’s or the Colts and Patriots in the 2000’s. This is must-see television that nobody should miss, as it has all the makings of a slug fest with the top two teams in the league.