Sunday evening, there may be a changing of the guard in the National Football Conference when the Seattle Seahawks play host to the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC championship game. The winner advances to take on the American Football Conference champ in Super Bowl XLVIII.
The 49ers are playing in their third consecutive and 15th NFC championship game overall. But Seattle has been a rising tide, lashing against the hull of San Francisco's NFC West division superiority. The Seahawks captured the division title this season and have won it six out of the last 10 years.
The last time Seattle hosted an NFC championship game was in January 2006, at the end of the 2005 season. They defeated the Carolina Panthers and went on to lose to the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XL.
When the Seahawks were established as an NFL franchise in 1976, they first played in the NFC. After moving to the American Football Conference in 1977, they reached the AFC championship game at the end of the 1983 season, losing to the eventual Super Bowl champion Los Angeles Raiders. Seattle moved back to the NFC in 2002.
The Seahawks and 49ers both play in the NFC West division. The last time two teams from the same division played for a conference championship was in January 2011, when the NFC North's Green Bay Packers met the Chicago Bears for the 2010 NFC championship.
This season, Seattle played San Francisco twice, with each team winning at home. Speaking of home field advantage, it must be noted that fans at Seattle's CenturyLink Field, known as the 12th Man, are notoriously loud. All visiting teams must utilize non-verbal communication at the line of scrimmage, due to the volume and ground shaking.
Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll appreciates playing this game at home, but knows how the 49ers will compete in the challenging atmosphere.
"They're such a consistent football team across the board that they have many strengths," Carroll told reporters Thursday. "That's why they've been so successful for the last few years. They've just found this really wonderful core of guys and they've put them in good positions," he added.
After defeating the Saints last weekend in the NFC divisional playoff round, Seattle has now won back-to-back games for the first time since the end of a seven-game winning streak on Dec. 2.
The 49ers have won their last eight consecutive games, dating back to a Nov. 25 victory against the Washington Redskins. San Francisco head coach Jim Harbaugh expects a tough, physical football game on Sunday, just like the two teams played last month.
"It feels like you go to the dentist chair and 3 ½ hours of getting root-canal work done," Harbaugh said after the Niners' two-point win over Seattle on Dec. 8. He added, "They're tough. These games are only for the tough."
Both teams are stout defensively and feature multiple threats on offense. The key will be the play of the quarterbacks -- second-year pro Russell Wilson for Seattle, and third-year man Colin Kaepernick of San Francisco. They can both run well. The big question will be how well either one can stand in the pocket and throw the football with success.
The NFC championship game will be televised by Fox, beginning at 6:30 p.m. Eastern time Sunday.
[Editor's note: The original version of this story misstated the Seahawks' conference affiliation in their first NFL season.]