Seahawks shake heads at 49ers-Rams NFC title game; Burrow needs help in AFC Bengals-Chiefs

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Russell Wilson and the Seahawks were already frustrated.

Now, they have to watch this weekend.

For the seventh consecutive January the NFL is playing its conference championship games without Seattle. That dates to the end of the 2014 season, the Seahawks’ second consecutive and last Super Bowl.

But this conference-championship Sunday is particularly galling for Wilson and his Seahawks. The San Francisco 49ers and Los Angeles Rams, Seattle’s division rivals, are playing for the NFC title in Inglewood, California, Sunday beginning at 3:30 p.m. (channel 13 locally).

Furthering the Seahawks frustration: They beat the Niners this season. Twice.

Seattle knocked Jimmy Garoppolo out of the game and won at Santa Clara in October.

Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson (3) runs for a touchdown past San Francisco 49ers defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw (99) during the second half of an NFL football game in Santa Clara, Calif., Sunday, Oct. 3, 2021. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar)
Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson (3) runs for a touchdown past San Francisco 49ers defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw (99) during the second half of an NFL football game in Santa Clara, Calif., Sunday, Oct. 3, 2021. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar)

Then the Seahawks forced three San Francisco turnovers, two off interceptions by Garoppolo, and sacked the 49ers’ quarterback in the end zone for a safety to win in Seattle in early December.

Seattle Seahawks defensive end Carlos Dunlap (8) leaps over San Francisco 49ers guard Tom Compton (66) on his way to sacking quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo (10) for a safety in the third quarter of an NFL game on Sunday at Lumen Field in Seattle.
Seattle Seahawks defensive end Carlos Dunlap (8) leaps over San Francisco 49ers guard Tom Compton (66) on his way to sacking quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo (10) for a safety in the third quarter of an NFL game on Sunday at Lumen Field in Seattle.

Those were two of the best victories in the Seahawks’ 7-10 season, their first losing one since 2011 and most defeats since 2009. Wilson and Seattle missed the playoff for only the second time in Wilson’s 10 NFL seasons.

“I thought we ended the season the right way. We kept battling. We were able to get several wins along the way,” Wilson said. “Obviously, not going to the playoffs always hurts because we have such a great team and we can battle with anyone.”

Seattle won four of its last six games.

“I think the cool part about everything was that in the midst of the storm we were able to stay the course,” Wilson said. “We were able to stay consistent in our approach, and in my opinion, get even better.”

The 49ers got even better than the Seahawks did.

And the Rams have been better than the Seahawks for multiple years in a row now.

The NFC title game is The News Tribune’s headliner Sunday.

The surging Cincinnati Bengals better protect Joe Burrow in Kansas City to have a chance to beat Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs in the AFC championship game Sunday beginning at noon (channel 7 locally).

NFC championship

49ers (12-7) at Rams (14-5)

Los Angeles favored by 3 1/2.

San Francisco won both regular-season meetings: 27-24 at L.A. in week 18, 31-10 in week 10.

The 49ers’ key to beating the Rams for the seventh consecutive time: getting their pass rush to make L.A. quarterback Matthew Stafford more like the previous, Detroit version of Matt Stafford — because San Francisco’s iffy secondary isn’t likely to be able to slow down the wondrous Cooper Kupp. The wide receiver from Yakima and Eastern Washington University, son of two Pacifc Lutheran Athletics Hall of Famers, continued his crazy, MVP-like season last Sunday when the Rams toppled Tom Brady and Tampa Bay.

Los Angeles Rams wide receiver Cooper Kupp, center, talks to wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., right, during the second half of an NFL football game against the Seattle Seahawks Tuesday, Dec. 21, 2021, in Inglewood, Calif. (AP Photo/Kevork Djansezian)
Los Angeles Rams wide receiver Cooper Kupp, center, talks to wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., right, during the second half of an NFL football game against the Seattle Seahawks Tuesday, Dec. 21, 2021, in Inglewood, Calif. (AP Photo/Kevork Djansezian)

The Niners’ defense has gotten healthier and back to dominance since the Seahawks beat San Francisco Dec. 5. Nick Bosa, Arik Armstead and San Francisco’s bullying front seven have been wrecking offenses. The latest was Aaron Rodgers’ Packers last weekend in the Niners’ 13-10 win inside a Green Bay freezer box.

Garoppolo has been hurting. His shoulder and thumb injuries obviously affected his throws in San Francisco’s playoff wins at Dallas and Green Bay. But this past week the shoulder issue came off the 49ers’ injury report, so he’s as healthy as he’s been this postseason. The last time he played the Rams, Jan. 9 in the final regular season game, Garoppolo rallied the Niners from 17-0 down to win in overtime a game San Francisco had to have to make the playoffs.

If Stafford has the time to find Kupp all over the Niners’ pass coverage, the Rams are going to become the second consecutive team to play the Super Bowl on its home field. The Buccaneers did it in Tampa last February. Before that, it had not happened in any of the first 54 Super Bowls.

If Bosa, Armstead and the 49ers continually harass Stafford, he’s proven prone to mistakes that could put San Francisco back into the Super Bowl for the second time in three seasons.

Either way, the Seahawks will continue shaking their heads while watching their NFC West rivals play for the Super Bowl.

Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson (3) scrambles away from San Francisco 49ers defensive end Nick Bosa (97) as tight end Gerald Everett (81) blocks during the first quarter of an NFL game on Sunday at Lumen Field in Seattle.
Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson (3) scrambles away from San Francisco 49ers defensive end Nick Bosa (97) as tight end Gerald Everett (81) blocks during the first quarter of an NFL game on Sunday at Lumen Field in Seattle.

The pick: Kupp continues going Jerry Rice, this time on Rice’s old team. And the Rams’ all-in, win-now trades for Stafford, pass rusher Von Miller and All-Pro cornerback Jalen Ramsey to join All-World defensive tackle Aaron Donald pay off. L.A. gets to its Super Bowl home game.

Rams 27, 49ers 23.

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AFC championship

Bengals (12-7) at Chiefs (14-5)

Chiefs favored by 7.

The Bengals won the regular-season meeting, 34-14 in Cincinnati in week 17.

Burrow’s connection with his game-breaking wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase goes back to when they were teammates at LSU. They are 6-0 in the postseason in college football and the NFL. That includes the Bengals’ playoff wins at home over Las Vegas (26-19) and last weekend at top-seeded Tennessee (19-16).

In those six postseason games together, Burrow has averaged 381.8 yards passing per game with 22 touchdown throws. Chase has averaged 106.8 yards receiving with four touchdown catches in those postseason games at LSU and Cincinnati with Burrow.

Quarterback Joe Burrow (9) and wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase are 6-0 in postseason games together playing at LSU and for Cincinnati. Their streak is headed for a huge test Sunday at Kansas City in the AFC championship.
Quarterback Joe Burrow (9) and wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase are 6-0 in postseason games together playing at LSU and for Cincinnati. Their streak is headed for a huge test Sunday at Kansas City in the AFC championship.

Burrow is going to need some more Bengals blocking for him Sunday than he got last weekend at Tennessee. Any Bengals blocking would help.

Cincinnati won in spite of its offensive line. It allowed the Titans to sack Burrow nine times. That tied an NFL record for a postseason game.

Pro Bowl pass rusher Chris Jones, former Seahawk Frank Clark and the Chiefs’ sack men are going to give Mahomes, Travis Kelce, Tyreek Hill and Kansas City’s offense more chances than they need.

The pick: This one won’t be nearly the classic the Chiefs won against Buffalo last week in one of the best football games you’ll ever see. Burrow goes down often, and Kansas City goes to its third straight Super Bowl.

Chiefs 34, Bengals 21.

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