The Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers will meet this evening at CenturyLink in the Pacific Northwest with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line. Anything that could have possibly been written about this game has been. Two bitter division rivals with two coaches who don’t like one another battling on the biggest stage the NFC has to offer. Two young quarterbacks in Russell Wilson and Colin Kaepernick looking to etch their name in the history book.
One thing, however, must be noted.
Neither Seattle or San Francisco are going away anytime soon. While this is the 49ers third consecutive trip to the NFC Championship game, they have a solid young core to build on moving forward. Seven of their eight Pro Bowlers from this past regular season are 30 or under. Quarterback Colin Kaepernick has started less than two years worth of games and is still under his rookie contract. At 26, he has many more years of success ahead of him. Even at running back where Frank Gore is slowly crossing the over-the-hill plateau, San Francisco has a plethora of young options, including Kendall Hunter, LaMichael James and Marcus Lattimore. At 26 as well, Michael Crabtree headlines a wide receiver unit that lacks depth, but still possesses a ton of young talent…including rookie Quinton Patton.
Along the offensive line, four of the five starters are under 30 with Mike Iupati (26), Alex Boone (26) and Anthony Davis (24) representing long-term solutions. All three are Pro Bowl-caliber players and possess a ton of untapped potential.
Defensively, it’s nearly the same story.
While Ray McDonald and Justin Smith are considered elder-statesmen, the likes of Tank Carradine, Ian Williams, Quinton Dial and even Tony Jerod-Eddie are young, up-and-coming defensive linemen. At 29, Patrick Willis still has a ton left in the tank. And ridiculously enough, NaVorro Bowman is just 25. This doesn’t even take into account Aldon Smith (24) and Eric Reid (22) as future All-Pro performers.
It must also be noted that San Francisco will have a total of 14 picks, including six in the first three rounds, in the 2014 NFL draft. With the work Trent Baalke has done since taking over as San Francisco’s general manager back in 2011, these picks are primed to add a whole lot of talent to the roster.
A bit further North, the Seahawks are just coming into their own. While they lack a true No. 1 wide receiver on the outside, especially with the injury-plagued Percy Harvin sidelined again, the young talent on this team is utterly ridiculous…mainly on the defensive side of the ball. Bruce Irvin, Bobby Wagner, K.J. Wright, Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas, Byron Maxwell and Jeremy Lane all come in at 25 years of age or younger and are all playing on rookie deals. Backups such as Jordan Hill and Malcolm Smith also lead a reserve unit that would be solid starters on other teams.
The main key, however, in Seattle’s development from playoff to Super Bowl contender has been the emergence of Russell Wilson as one of the best young quarterbacks in the NFL. Wilson’s stats may have taken a hit recently, but in the end he possesses the most wins for a quarterback in NFL history in his first two seasons in the league. Counted out as too short and not the prototypical quarterback, Wilson joins Kaepernick as the future of the NFL quarterback.
Also discounted as a college coach and cast off in his stints with New England the Jets, Pete Carroll has built an atmosphere of winning in the Pacific Northwest. He’s joined by general manager John Schneider to form one of the best front offices from a player personnel standpoint in the NFL.
Meanwhile in San Francisco, Jim Harbaugh possesses the third-highest winning percentage in NFL history (minimum 50 games coached). Colin Kaepernick has already won more road playoff games in the last calendar year than the 49ers franchise tallied from 1949-2011 combined. Think about that for a second.
While the Arizona Cardinals and St. Louis Rams appear to be on the upswing, they have a whole lot to do in the offseason in order to realistically compete with these two teams. The New Orleans Saints, led by Drew Brees, may be in the midst of the final stages of their Super Bowl window. Robert Griffin III and the Washington Redskins have gone from a serious title contender to bottom feeders in the NFC East. Inspired by the Hall of Fame play of Aaron Rodgers, the Green Bay Packers will still have a say in the NFC in the coming years. Meanwhile, Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers appear ready to take the next step after a premature exit from the playoffs at the hands of the 49ers in the divisional round.
Either way you put it, the likelihood that this will be the last NFC Championship game between Seattle and San Francisco is small. These two teams are going to be among the best in he NFL over the course of the next decade…and the end result will likely be three matchups on an annual basis.
Who comes away on top this afternoon? This is the first of a long line of questions that will consume these bitter rivals for at least the next decade.
Enjoy it, guys.