NFC Playoffs Q&A: Seattle homing in


Minutes after the Seattle Seahawks lost a 30-28 decision to the Atlanta Falcons in last season's divisional playoffs, Seattle coach Pete Carroll walked into the locker room and made a statement.

"This is why we have to have home-field advantage," Carroll said.

The Seahawks earned just that with an impressive 13-3 regular season. Now they're set to host Sunday's NFC Championship Game against the San Francisco 49ers in a renewal of the NFL's top rivalry. The coaches don't like each other. The players detest one another. It's only fitting that these teams will meet with a trip to the Super Bowl hanging in the balance.

The Seahawks are trying to become the first NFC No. 1 seed since the 2009 New Orleans Saints to advance to the Super Bowl. Those Saints are the only NFC team since 2006 to convert a top seed into Super Bowl tickets. Like the AFC in the early 2000s, an influx of top quarterbacks changed the way the NFC playoffs unfold.

Eli Manning, Aaron Rodgers, Colin Kaepernick and Kurt Warner neutralized the value of home field by taking lower seeds to the Super Bowl. Their ability to take control of playoff games changed the formula of the NFC playoffs.

Since 2006, the '09 Saints, last season's Falcons and this year's Seahawks are the only top seeds even to make it to the NFC title game.

Carroll hopes home field can be the difference that gets the Seahawks to the Super Bowl.

Here are the 10 biggest questions heading into the NFC title game.

1. A break from high-flying passing games? Niners coach Jim Harbaugh and Carroll have re-established old-school football in what is a quarterback-driven, pass-happy league. The Seahawks ranked 26th in the NFL in passing yards with 202.3 yards per game. The 49ers ranked 30th with a 186.2-yard mark. If the 49ers advance, they will be in the Super Bowl with one of the weakest (statistically speaking) passing offenses in the Super Bowl era.

Neither coach cares. Harbaugh was able to get Kaepernick through 11 games without WR Michael Crabtree. Now, Crabtree is back and the 49ers can beat opponents through the air and on the ground. In the regular season, Kaepernick's average passing line was 15.18 completions in 26.0 attempts for 199.8 yards. Russell Wilson averaged 25.4 attempts with 16.06 completions for 209.8 yards. Both teams believe in balance.

2. How concerned is Carroll about the Seahawks' offense? The Seahawks don't run a fantasy-style offense. The plan is to have a balanced attack that is designed to win big games.

Still, the Seahawks need more from their offense if they are to advance. Over the past five games, including Saturday's divisional round win over New Orleans, Wilson has thrown for more than 200 yards only once. Receivers aren't getting good separation; Wilson hasn't been as sharp on slant passes; and he didn't spot some open receivers against the Saints.

"That's something I can fix," Wilson said of the missed slant passes. "I'm not worried about it. I'm looking forward to it next week."

The reason the Seahawks aren't panicked is the style of their offense. Carroll wants a conservative offense that doesn't commit turnovers. He feels that the defense and running game can win as long as the offense doesn't make game-changing mistakes.

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