Oops. I must have missed the “Now we hate Seattle” memo.
This NFC Championship Game matchup is the best rivalry going in the NFL, between two talented teams full of ego and bravado, brimming with both familiarity and contempt. It’s the best rivalry the 49ers have had since the glory-days battles with theDallas Cowboys.
But that rivalry made sense. It was easy for San Francisco to despise Dallas and everything about it. Natural enemies; polar opposites; red state versus blue state.
But Seattle? That’s just weird. For San Francisco it’s like hating your twin sister. Like looking in the mirror and despising what you see.
Gorgeous, hilly, waterfront city? Check.
Food-obsessed, coffee-addicted population? Check.
Hipster, techie vibe? Check.
Liberal, green politics? Check.
Rich rock ‘n’ roll history? Check.
And on the football field the teams are much the same, with demonstrative head coaches who came out of the same collegiate conference, budding superstars at quarterback, and nasty, physical defenses.
These “rival” cities are more alike than different. Most San Franciscans view Seattle as a nice place they could imagine living if they couldn’t live in San Francisco. Many Seattle residents are Bay Area refugees. Both communities have a superiority complex about the world that lies east of their states’ mountain ranges.
To the rest of the country, we might as well be interchangeable. One USA Today columnist called this game the “Insuffera-Bowl.” He was talking mainly about football personalities. But he could be talking about the dueling civic levels of smugness.
However, according to Seattle Times columnist Danny Westneat, his town does have an inferiority complex about San Francisco. He calls Seattle “San Francisco’s Spokane.”
“In boomtown Seattle of today, where we’re smug that we’re ranked No. 1 for this or that, face it, we remain deep-down envious of only one other,” Westneat wrote. “Her hipness. Her wealth. Her arts, architecture, high-tech, wine, culture, politics, you name it – we still peek insecurely south to check: What Would San Francisco Do?”
–Ann Killion, San Francisco Chronicle
The ability to adapt effectively to a variety of matchup strengths is always a plus in the NFL playoffs, but given the eclectic state of the current crop of Super Bowl contenders, that trait may be more useful than ever. Each of the four remaining teams has a different combination of powerful traits that make them difficult to game plan for, and the eventual Super Bowl winner is going to have to find a way to effectively deal with this.
Jim Harbaugh’s San Francisco 49ers might not look at first glance like the leading remaining team in the area of adaptability, but the metrics and game-tape analysis indicate this group is by far the best equipped to successfully adjust its approach to whatever type of personnel challenge comes its way. This is the type of edge that makes the 49ers the favorites to win Super Bowl XLVIII.
This advantage shows up in San Francisco’s superb balance across the statistical spectrumand when looking at each potential matchup battle they may have to deal with on their potential Super Bowl path.
Stopping the power rushing game is a key to beating either the Seattle Seahawks or the New England Patriots, and the 49ers are well-equipped in this area. From Week 7 through the end of the regular season, San Francisco allowed an opponent to gain 100 or more yards on the ground only three times. According to ESPN Stats & Information, in that same time frame only two teams (Arizona and Detroit) allowed fewer rush yards per game than the 49ers (85.8).
One key here is San Francisco has allowed 6.1 good blocking yards per attempt (GBYPA), a metric that gauges how productive a ball carrier is when given good blocking (which is very roughly defined as when the offense doesn’t allow the defense to disrupt a rush attempt). Being at or near the 6-yard mark is considered elite in this category and indicates the Niners are excellent at preventing impactful ground gains even when the other team blocks well.
The 49ers may not have a Legion of Boom-caliber secondary, but if the opposing team calls for them to have to stop an aerial assault (something that would be key if they were to face the Denver Broncos in the Super Bowl), they are more than capable of doing so.
San Francisco’s defense racked up top-eight totals in Total QBR (39.9, ranked sixth), passing yards per game (221, seventh) and net yards per attempt (6.04). Maybe more important is the fact that the 49ers’ pass rush showed tremendous improvement late in the season. From Weeks 12-17, the 49ers tallied a 7.0 percent sack rate on opposing quarterback dropbacks, ranking them eighth in the league in that time frame. Add in four sacks against the Green Bay Packers in the NFC wild-card game and five sacks against the Carolina Panthers in the NFC divisional round, and it shows the Niners can get after an opposing passer.
The 49ers’ pass defense also could get a personnel upgrade in the form of cornerback Carlos Rogers. Rogers missed both of San Francisco’s playoff games because of a hamstring injury, but there are signs that he could return to the lineup for the NFC Championship Game.
–K.C. Joyner, ESPN Insider
The WNBA is having what must be considered serious discussions with the Golden State Warriors to determine the future of the Los Angeles Sparks franchise, two weeks after the news broke that the Sparks’ team ownership handed the team back to the league after losing $12 million over the past six years.
It’s a beat-the-clock race to save one of the league’s founding franchises, because the business of running the world’s best professional women’s basketball league is on hold until the Sparks’ future is determined.
A league schedule awaits. The announcement of a draft date awaits. The players’ new collective bargaining agreement awaits.
The Warriors publicly expressed their interest in the team in the days immediately following the announcement that the Sparks’ family ownership group, led by CEO Paula Madison, would no longer be able to operate the team.
And while the league said it is reaching out to a variety of possible new owners, the Warriors’ ownership is the only potential buyer willing to go public so far with its interest. Does that mean there aren’t other suitors? Not necessarily. Does that mean the Sparks have a chance to remain in Los Angeles? Possibly.
But right now, in mid-January, with training camps opening in about five months, Golden State looks like the best option on the table to save the Sparks. And not in the consolation prize way. A move to the Bay Area could end up as a great move for the WNBA.
The best part about the Warriors’ involvement thus far is that Golden State’s ownership wants to be here. No arm-twisting involved. The Warriors have publicly said they’ve been interested in a WNBA team since Joe Lacob and Peter Guber bought the NBA franchise in 2010.
And that is why the WNBA should be doing everything it can to make this happen.
An owner with ample resources, genuine interest in the game, and one of the most supportive women’s basketball markets in the country wants a team.
You have a team with a superstar player in Candace Parker, a local star in Nneka Ogwumike (who starred at Stanford) and a roster capable of winning a title.
It should be a no-brainer.
Except for the pesky business details that get in the way.
Such as the debt incurred by the previous ownership group, and who might be picking up that bill.
Such as blocking arena time in a major market on five months’ notice.
Such as moving an entire franchise’s operations — from marketing to ticket sales to sponsorship — to a new city in a matter of weeks to ramp up for a season.
But the benefits to the league and the Warriors organization would seem to outweigh the obstacles.
The Warriors organization is chock-full of folks with ties to the women’s game. Lacob owned the San Jose Lasers in the American Basketball League. Team executive Rick Welts was instrumental in launching the league with Val Ackerman back in 1997. Jim Weyermann, the Warriors’ head of new franchise development, was the general manager of the Seattle Storm for three seasons and also the GM of the ABL’s Seattle Reign.
–Michelle Smith, espnW.com