CHARLOTTE, N.C. - The Super Bowl may be coming to the New York area next month, but the NFC representative will be from way out West.
The San Francisco 49ers beat the Carolina Panthers, 23-10, in Sunday's divisional playoff game and will face the top-seeded Seahawks in Seattle on Sunday for the right to play at MetLife Stadium in the Big Apple's Big Game Feb. 2.
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The division rivals already have met twice this season; Seattle won at home in Week 2, 29-3, and the 49ers won in San Francisco, 19-17, in Week 14.
They may not be the top two seeds in the conference, but it's hard to say they are not the two best teams. Which is why, when asked if it has seemed inevitable that it would come down to his team against the Seahawks, Jim Harbaugh shrugged.
"Sure," he said. "Why not?"
"We're the two teams that everybody was kind of looking at from the beginning," 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick said. "It's going to be a knock-down, drag-out game."
Seattle is a notoriously difficult place to play, but 49ers linebacker Patrick Willis said that won't matter.
"It's tough to play up there, the crowd is loud," he said. "But this is the game to go to the Super Bowl. Nothing matters outside of who is on that field in what we do and we have to be focused and I know we're going to be ready."
It will be the 49ers' third straight appearance in the NFC title game. They lost to the Giants two years ago and beat the Falcons last year to reach the Super Bowl, but they came up short against the Ravens.
"We didn't finish last year," running back Frank Gore said. "Now we are back, or we are going to be. We have to go to Seattle. We know it's going to be a dogfight, but we are built for this."
The teams have a history that goes back to college; Harbaugh and Seattle coach Pete Carroll were adversaries as Pac-10 coaches at Stanford and USC, respectively. The 49ers have lost their last two games in Seattle by a combined score of 71-16.
"Long story short, man, they know us and we know them," 49ers linebacker NaVorro Bowman said. "We have to go there. We all know the history. But this is [for] the Super Bowl, man. Everything is on the line. That just says it all. We're ready, that's all it comes down to."