This is the hardest game of the season. The finality of it hits that if you lose, you realize you were one game away from going to the Super Bowl, which is every player's dream as a kid.
I've been in that position three times, once as a player and twice as an assistant coach. In 30 years of being in the National Football League, I got to the Super Bowl once.
I remember playing Dallas in the NFC title game in Philadelphia and the emotion of winning that game. I remember how the fans acted and the electricity that was in that stadium.
When we went back to the locker room, we looked at each other and said, “We're going to the Super Bowl!” Then it hits you.
Sometimes players take it for granted that once you get there, you'll be back. That's not true. I got to an NFC and AFC title game as an assistant coach and never got back to the Super Bowl. It is difficult.
What the 49ers have done over the last three years and the gauntlet of games they've won says a lot about who they are and what they're about.
Before the season started, I picked Seattle and Denver to get to the Super Bowl. But as I look at it and view the situation today, I think San Francisco is better than Seattle on the offensive end of it.
That could be the advantage the 49ers need to win this game. Seattle is struggling to score points. Quarterback Russell Wilson is not a volume thrower. His receivers are not creating enough separation. As a result, he's struggling.
If you can stop Seattle on the ground, the quarterback is going to have to make some plays. When they break the huddle, the 49ers defense isn't fearing those receivers.
Yet, when the 49ers break the huddle, you are nervous — or should be — about Vernon Davis, Michael Crabtree and Anquan Boldin. Richard Sherman can't cover all of them.
Now I say this and Wilson is hearing it as well. He understands he has to play his best game. It's going to boil down to him and Colin Kaepernick.
Kaepernick is making better decisions. Seattle can not let him roll to his right. They will make him roll to his left. He is not as accurate going to the left. If he runs, they will make him go inside to their best tacklers.
This is a game where every possession is critical. It becomes situational football. Field position is paramount. If he sees an opening, Kaepernick has to run. Don't save yourself.
If the Seahawks dictate the terms of when Kaepernick has to throw it, you are throwing into the strength of who they are. You don't want to do that. The 49ers have to throw on their terms.
Carolina was a zone team. Seattle is a man-coverage team.
The Seahawks will play press coverage with the 49ers receivers. You have to create formations to get them some space. I think Seattle will move Sherman around according to the situation. It may be where Davis lines up. He's the wild card.
Davis can stretch the field for the 49ers. If you get him going, everything else will fall into place
I think both coaches are smart enough to realize all the talking is becoming a distraction. Just go play the game. At this level, you're not intimidating the guy.
I picked Seattle before the year started. But I'm going with San Francisco. I think they're playing better. Just don't let the mythical 12th man with the Skittles get to you.
I still like Denver for this reason. Last week showed me something that will help Peyton Manning. The Broncos only had eight possessions and controlled the clock for 35 minutes.
Manning functioned well in that scenario. He was on point with his throws. It was almost a segue of what's about to happen when New England comes in this Sunday.
Will it surprise me if New England wins? No.
I look at Denver's defense and I get nervous. The thing about the Patriots is they will attack the Broncos' weaknesses. Plus they have the ability to run it and knock the life out of the Broncos defensive line.
New England has matchup problems in its secondary. That's an advantage for the Broncos. Still the Patriots always seem to find a way to create turnovers.
Manning can't turn the ball over. That's a possession that's gone. And you're only going to probably get eight or nine of them.
I'm looking at this thing this week and I'm hedging my bets. I'm probably going to be wrong. I'm just going with what I see and I'm seeing New England with more confidence because of Brady.
But I'm going to stay with Denver.
When I view games, I'm OK with giving opinions. I'm an analyst. I don't pull for teams. I pull for players and coaches. If they play and coach the game correctly, professionally and do it with the intention of making the game better, I pull for people like that.
If they don't, then I got a problem. As a player and coach, I wanted to make the game better because I was part of it. I feel I can say this because I've got 30 years invested in this deal. That's my platform.
Herm Edwards, a former Monterey High, MPC and Philadelphia Eagles cornerback, is an NFL analyst for ESPN. The former Jets and Chiefs head coach will share his thoughts each week during the NFL season with The Herald's John Devine.