Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman sniffed before a December meeting between the rival 49ers and Seahawks that the final regular-season meeting was nothing more than a "glorified practice." Well, this time it's as real as it gets: The winner advances to the Super Bowl.
Players from both sides acknowledged that this matchup seemed destined. It had to come down to the 49ers and Seahawks -- NFC West-iny.
"They don't like us, and we don't like them," 49ers safety Donte Whitner said of the rivalry. "We know we have to go up there into a hostile environment."
Luckily for the 49ers, they seem to be getting better at that hostile environment stuff. They triumphed over the frigid conditions in Green Bay and a ferocious defense in Carolina.
Next up: a venue where the 49ers have been outscored 71-16 over their past two meetings.
Here are some of the factors the 49ers are up against this time:
At CenturyLink Field, they monitor decibels as closely as passing yards. When a Kansas City Chiefs crowd set a world noise record for a sporting event Oct. 13, the Seahawks fans turned around and reclaimed the title by Dec. 2. Against the New Orleans Saints that night, the crowd's roar reached 137.6 dB. (The level at which pain begins is 125 dB.)
The readings are more than just a curiosity: Savvy fans know just when it's most disruptive to pump up the volume. Since 2005, the Seahawks have coaxed 1.83 false-start penalties per home game, tops in the NFL.
And it's not as if the defense needs much help. In his previous game at CenturyLink this season, Colin Kaepernick was 13 of 28 for 127 yards with no touchdowns, three interceptions and a career-worst 20.1 passer rating.
"That's in the past," the 49ers quarterback said Sunday. "This is a different situation."
In this regard, the 49ers might catch a break. By Monday afternoon, the map at accuweather.com featured the all-caps words: NO RAIN IN SIGHT.
The forecast calls for some low clouds and sun Sunday, with a high of 50 degrees for the 3:30 kickoff. A passing shower is possible Saturday, but nothing that should affect the NFC title game.
With so much attention on Russell Wilson's legs, it's easy to forget that his arm ranks with the best young passers in NFL history.
Wilson's 52 passing touchdowns over his first two seasons tie him with Peyton Manning for the second-most ever by a QB over his first two years. (Dan Marino tops the list with 68.)
Wilson's 24 regular-season wins are the most by a quarterback over his first two seasons since 1970. His 101.2 season passer rating in 2013 broke the Seahawks record he set last year (100.0).
The 49ers certainly will notice the way Wilson struggled with the timing on the Seahawks' trademark slant passes Sunday against New Orleans, but after that game the quarterback was unfazed.
"That's something I can fix. I'm not worried about it," Wilson said. "I'm looking forward to it next week."
Delisa Lynch used to get her son revved up for Pop Warner games by offering up Skittles. She'd say, "Here Marshawn, come and get your power pellets. Eat 'em up, baby. They're going to make you run fast, and they're going to make you play good."
Talk about a sugar rush.
Lynch, who still goes for his pregame candy, hammered out a Seattle playoff-record 140 yards last week, including a determined 31-yard touchdown run.
"He's blessed with tremendous athleticism and body control and power," receiver Golden Tate said after the game. "But right there he wanted that. He just wanted it, and he went and got it."
Lynch, the Oakland native and former Cal star, set a career-high with 14 total touchdowns this season (12 rush, two receiving). He is the only player in the NFL to rush for more than 1,000 yards and score 10 rushing touchdowns in each of the last three seasons.
The 49ers' vaunted defense didn't allow a 100-yard rusher all season, but Lynch came the closest with 98 yards on 28 carries in Week 2.
Lynch's running style? Not that complicated.
"I don't run to get tackled," he explained Sunday.
Seattle led the league in fewest passing yards allowed and interceptions this season, a feat accomplished only twice since the 1970 merger.
The previous two teams both reached the Super Bowl: the 2002 Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the 1982 Miami Dolphins.
Will the Seahawks make it three for three? Richard Sherman essentially vowed that they would after Seattle's 19-17 loss at Candlestick Park in December.
"We expected to blow them out, but they got the benefit of a few calls tonight throughout the game, and that helps you especially on third down," Sherman said. "We will see them again, and it will be a different result."
Sherman, who played under Jim Harbaugh at Stanford, tied his career high with eight interceptions in becoming the first Seahawks player to lead the NFL in INTs since Eugene Robinson in 1993.
Overall, Seattle led the NFL in points allowed (14.4), yards allowed (273.6), passing yards allowed (172.0), interceptions (28), takeaways (39) and turnover differential (plus-20).