While in the Pac-10, Pete Carroll and Jim Harbaugh developed a surprising rivalry at USC and Stanford. Carroll helped restore a former powerhouse back to power, while Harbaugh helped bring the Cardinal to a level they had never been seen, and the two constantly butted heads. After they both moved on to the NFL, they're still in the same division, still rivals, still butting heads, but otherwise, it seems that the shoes are on the other feet.
Now it's Harbaugh restoring power to a once-great franchise and Carroll trying to bring everlasting prominence to a franchise that's still looking for it's first Lombardi to put in the trophy case. The two coaches meet again on Sunday, the sixth time they'll do so in the last three years, and each could use a win in order to puff his chest out at the other -- even though they both know that what happens in January will be what ultimately matters.
Still, Seattle is trying to clinch the NFC West and San Francisco is looking to secure a wild card berth. Who comes out victorious on Sunday by the bay?
Meet the 49ers
Harbaugh took over in 2011 and immediately turned things around for a franchise that had won five Super Bowls in history but hadn't made the playoffs since 2002. The Niners went 13-3 in his first season, 11-4-1 in the next and has won the last two division titles, but that's likely out of reach this year.
Still, at 8-4, San Francisco is in a good position to make the playoffs for the third year in a row. If the Niners win and Arizona loses, they'll have a two-game lead over the Cards with three games left, plus the head-to-head tiebreaker. It won't clinch them the wild card, but it would make them a pretty solid lock to be playing a 17th game this season.
The 49ers boast a top-three scoring defense for the third year in a row, despite seeing All-Pro safety Dashon Goldson leave via free agency and All-Pro linebacker Aldon Smith missing part of the year due to off-field issues. Led by star linebackers Patrick Willis, NaVorro Bowman and Ahmad Brooks (career-high 8.5 sacks), San Francisco still runs out an elite defense every week.
It's the offense that could use a boost, and the 49ers may have gotten that last week with the return of receiver Michael Crabtree.
After missing the first 11 games of the year, including a 29-3 loss to Seattle in Week 2, Crabtree has come back and given quarterback Colin Kaepernick a third option finally after Anquan Boldin and Vernon Davis. San Francisco beat the St. Louis Rams 23-13, and they'll be looking to beat the Seahawks for their third-straight win.
Meet the Seahawks
Having perhaps their most successful season in franchise history, the Seahawks have won seven in a row and hold the best record in the NFL after 12 games for the first time since being an expansion team in 1976. Now 38 mostly-difficult years later, Seattle is looking for its first championship, as well.
Beating San Francisco and securing a playoff home game (though Seattle can't quite secure the No. 1 seed this Sunday) would go a long way toward at least getting to New York.
The Seahawks have won 14 home games in a row, and quarterback Russell Wilson has never lost at CenturyLink Field. He has however lost at Candlestick Park, one of the last places where Wilson has lost a game. Last year in Week 7, Wilson was 9-of-23 for 122 yards and an interception when Seattle lost, 13-6. The Seahawks are 18-3 since that game, but all three of those losses (four, if you include the playoffs) have come on the road.
The Seahawks have beaten the 49ers by a combined score of 71-16 in their last two meetings, but both of those came at home. Can they still assert dominance, let alone outscore them, on San Francisco's home turf?
Local Takes: San Francisco 49ers
Niners Nation took a look at the All-22 tape from San Francisco's game against the Rams to examine the effect that Crabtree had on the offense, and more importantly, Kaepernick:
Summary: The GIF above showing Kaepernick's eyes tells the whole story. As anyone who has read these breakdowns or studied Kaepernick's play over the past few months knows, there have been many times this year when his first read was taken away and he failed to progress even to his second read leading to some ill advised scramble attempts. On this play, he calmly and collectively flipped through 3 reads and found the defensive mistake and capitalized, all in under 3 seconds.
While there are multiple reasons behind Kaepernick's success Sunday, a major one was his confidence. With his main target back in fold, the 49ers passing game was able to get rolling early and provided their young quarterback with the self-belief required to succeed. Whether it was reading the field, quick decisions to tuck the ball and scramble or fitting the ball into tight windows, Kaepernick looked like the quarterback we all expected him to be on Sunday.
Local Takes: Seattle Seahawks
Kenneth Arthur broke down the dominance the Seattle displayed over the Saints on Monday night:
Over their last three games, Seattle has won by a combined score of 108 to 37. The Falcons and Minnesota Vikings are bad teams, but the Saints are not. At least, they are not usually. Clearly, playing in Seattle was not too kind to them.
The most points that New Orleans had given up this year was 30, and that was nearly matched at half when the Seahawks led 27-7. The most yards they had allowed under the new Rob Ryan defense was 434. Tonight, Seattle put up 429 yards. The most net passing yards they had allowed was 325. The Seahawks put up 302 passing yards behind Russell Wilson, edging close to that number despite having the game well in-hand early in the second half.
The fewest points the Saints had scored was 16. Their lowest yardage output was 347. Tonight they were held to 188.
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The point spread doesn't really seem to do justice just how close these two teams are, which would make sense since you're supposed to keep your enemies closer than your friends. The Seahawks and 49ers truly do hate each other, and their "smashmouth" brand of football only further drives home the point that this is an old-school rivalry that's not secretly "fun" under the surface. They do not like each other one bit.
The coaches don't like each other. The fans of each team loathe the players on the other sideline. The players themselves won't forget some of the hits laid upon one another, they won't forget the final scores, they won't forget the bragging and boasting that a player like Richard Sherman does after a game. It's all part of what's making it the best rivalry in the NFL as of today.
Did Carroll "figure out" Harbaugh to the point where he can beat him any time, anywhere, or was it just a couple of "lucky" games in Seattle, place where the Seahawks truly seem indestructible?
Both teams will come into this game with an energy and excitement unlike what you'll see with most teams and games. It should be chippy, and it should come down to the final drive. Seattle might just be suffering from a tiny bit of a hangover from their Monday night dominance.
49ers 23, Seahawks 20
The 49ers are 2.5-point favorites, per Odds Shark. This is the first time all season that Seattle is the underdog, and they are 8-4 against the spread. San Francisco is 8-3-1 against the spread.