Here is a link to my Sunday column about the 49ers-Seahawks game. The full text appears below:
The 49ers are going to win the NFC championship game. They could end up slaughtering the Seahawks.
That may seem like a wild prediction considering Seattle is the betting favorite, considering the game is in Seattle, considering I’ve been lukewarm about the 49ers until recently.
Forget lukewarm from me. Where the 49ers are concerned, I’m scalding.
The Seahawks are favorites because they beat the 49ers the last two times those teams played in Seattle — by a combined score of 71-16. Ouch.
But things have changed. The world has changed. The Seahawks haven’t been so hot lately. On Dec. 22, they lost at home to the Arizona Cardinals, scored 10 points. We’re supposed to take that production seriously?
The 49ers are the better team right now. They won their final six regular-season games and you know what they’ve done on the road in the playoffs. Just dominated.
Last Sunday, they not only defeated the Panthers in Charlotte, they set back the entire Carolina franchise and made any reasonable observer wonder about coach Ron Rivera. What happened last week was stunning, and that means the 49ers right now are better than they have been all season. And they are getting better.
The Seahawks aren’t. To pick them, you have to overlook how deadly the Niners have been recently, and how dead the Seahawks are — they lost two of their final four regular-season games — no way to prep for the playoffs. And their offense has vanished in the wind and rain and fog of Seattle. They won’t even have wide receiver Percy Harvin against the 49ers, and that hurts their already tepid passing attack — although you’re hard-pressed to use the word “attack” for the Seattle passing game.
Now, I want to talk about hostages.
In general, it’s better for a head coach to oversee either his offense or defense — to be in charge of one side of the ball. This is not always the case, so don’t write to me with exceptions. But in general, a head coach needs to know his stuff on one side of the ball.
In San Francisco, we’re used to this template. Bill Walsh drew up his offense. George Seifert drew up the defense.
Walsh used to tell me, “A coach who is only an administrator is at the mercy of his coordinators.” Walsh meant such a coach was held hostage by the abilities of his coordinators, a place Walsh never wanted to be.
Look at the Seahawks. Pete Carroll is a defensive guy. He was defensive coordinator for the Niners in the mid-1990s. So he has credentials on defense. He is not, at first glance, a hostage. But he’s being held hostage by his offensive coordinator, Darrell Bevell, who has not performed well lately. I have no idea why.
It’s not like Carroll can march into Bevell’s office and help him, tell him how to improve, tell him which plays to run against the 49ers’ standard alignment or nickel defense. That’s not Carroll’s area.
Here’s something even worse. Carroll almost certainly doesn’t understand what’s wrong with his offense, does not have the diagnostic concepts in his head to make a difference. If the Seahawks have a one-dimensional offense in a game of this magnitude, and they will — “Run, Marshawn, run” — they are in big trouble.
A note of fairness: Harbaugh could be in the same position as Carroll — except he isn’t. Harbaugh is an offensive guy and relies totally on his defensive coordinator Vic Fangio for aid and comfort when the other team has the ball. If Fangio were ordinary, just another guy, Harbaugh would be lost and the Niners would give up significantly more points.
But Harbaugh is not lost. Fangio is brilliant. Could be the best in the business. Saves Harbaugh from his blind spot.
Fangio will eat Bevell alive.
It’s interesting to see Fangio in action with the media. He is plainspoken, won’t overpraise his players, even talks defensive scheme to a limited extent, a Harbaugh no-no.
He certainly seems independent compared to offensive coordinator Greg Roman, whom you’d call a company man. Roman is a good coordinator, not in Fangio’s league. With him, every 49ers player is the reincarnation of Jim Brown or Johnny Unitas, and every opposing team is the greatest team in the history of life.
Fangio seems to have earned a certain status on the coaching staff. And his unit will make Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson run for his life.
Enough football talk. Let’s talk vibes. Let’s talk feelings.
Think back to the 1981 49ers, the team that won the first Niners’ Super Bowl in January 1982. Think back, if you were compos mentis back then. Remember how the 49ers kept coming on, how their success almost felt mystical or preordained like fate. Remember how, after a while, the 49ers winning games didn’t seem surprising anymore, the Niners handling the Giants, Cowboys and Bengals in the postseason. How it all made sense. How if you looked back, you should have seen it coming.
Doesn’t it feel that way now?
Frank Gore and Anquan Boldin and Justin Smith and NaVorro Bowman and so many others are asserting themselves at the highest level. These Niners are on an eight-game win streak, getting wins against some tough teams. Just winning. Nothing an impediment. The Seattle crowd irrelevant. The future there to grasp.
For more on the world of sports in general and the Bay Area in particular, go to the Cohn Zohn at cohn.blogs.pressdemocrat.com. You can reach Staff Columnist Lowell Cohn at firstname.lastname@example.org.