By Brady Henderson
The only thing that stands between the Seahawks and the Super Bowl is their bitter rival, the hottest team in football and one of only three opponents who beat Seattle during the regular season.
Coach Pete Carroll kind of likes it that way.
"I think it's a great matchup. I think it's the matchup that everybody would like to see, and we don't mind it one bit, either, and they don't mind it one bit, either. So it will be a great one," he told 710 ESPN Seattle's "Brock and Danny" Monday morning when asked about hosting the 49ers in next weekend's NFC Championship Game.
"Gosh, they've looked good," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll says about the 49ers, who have won eight straight heading into the NFC Championship Game against Seattle. (AP)
That's not to say it's the easiest one for Seattle considering the 49ers have won their last eight games, finishing the regular season on a 6-0 run before beating Green Bay and then Carolina on the road to advance to the title game. One of San Francisco's eight straight wins came against Seattle at Candlestick Park in Week 14, a game the Seahawks were in position to win before allowing a 51-yard run by Frank Gore that set up the 49ers' game-winning field goal.
"We shoulda won the game down there," Carroll said.
This one will be at CenturyLink Field, where the Seahawks beat the 49ers 29-3 in Week 2 and have outscored San Francisco 71-16 in the last two meetings. The 49ers lost by 20 points at home to Indianapolis following that Sept. 15 loss in Seattle, then won 11 of their final 13 games. Their two losses during that stretch came by a combined four points.
"They've played really well. Gosh, they've looked good," Carroll said. "I've watched them a lot all through the end of the season and they've played very consistent football with the running game and mixing the throwing game. The quarterback has really been effective, the receivers have been obvious – the play-making that they do – their defense is the same as it's always been in terms of they're always really good, and they're kicking the ball well. They're doing all of those things really well.
|"The Pete Carroll Show" | Blue 42 | Cold Hard Facts||• O'Neil: Errors may decide NFC championship||• O'Neil: Stopping the 49ers starts with Frank Gore||• Henderson: Taking a closer look at the 49ers||• Henderson: Russell Okung vs. 49ers' Aldon Smith||• O'Neil: How the rivalry became so heated | Timeline||• Moore: Pete Carroll, Jim Harbaugh deny animosity||• Moore: Crowd isn't enough for Hawks to beat 49ers|
"So it's a really well equipped football team coming in against a really well equipped football team and it's going to be a great match."
It will mark the seventh time these teams have met since 2011, when coach Jim Harbaugh left Stanford for San Francisco and brought with him a history with his Seahawks counterpart. The 49ers have a 4-2 edge in the series over that span, but the point differential actually favors Seattle by 28.
It's only fitting that the NFC title game will showcase what is becoming the league's best rivalry, one defined by chippy and physical meetings, offseason sniping and what appears to be genuine dislike by some of the parties involved.
There's plenty of familiarity and not much love lost.
"They know us and we know them and we know what we've done well against them and not. Same for them," Carroll said. "So now you're playing the chess match of what is the right way to emphasize certain things and try to take advantage of certain things they've done to us – that's the game that we're playing. That's why the hours are short in terms of sleep right now.
"... It's a blast. It's a blast. To be this deep into the playoffs and playing home and all of the opportunity, the 60 minutes between now and going to the Super Bowl, it's just a thrill to be in this setting. And the fact that we do have this familiarity, it makes it a really cool matchup – it really does – for both sides. We'll all be deep into it and we'll see what happens come gameday."
Follow Brady Henderson on Twitter @BradyHenderson.