The NFC West could be the division to watch in the 2013 NFL season. That's thanks to the growing rivalry between the San Francisco 49ers and the Seattle Seahawks.
On Monday, both teams traded for a playmaking wide receiver. The 49ers sent a sixth-round pick to the Baltimore Ravens for Anquan Boldin. Earlier, the Seahawks dealt a first-round choice, plus two seventh-round picks, to the Minnesota Vikings for Percy Harvin.
It feels more than a coincidence that the two teams that ruled the West in 2012, made these moves on the same day. That's because in many ways the 49ers and Seahawks are sides of the same coin.
They are both coached by men who made their reputations in College football. Indeed, Jim Harbaugh and Pete Carroll shared a fierce rivalry at the collegiate level.
Each man has constructed a team built on power football. The 49ers exemplify this philosophy. It starts up front, with two dominant lines.
The foundation of their offense is led by an imposing front five, featuring standout left tackle Joe Staley. This group knocks open holes allowing bruising runner Frank Gore to punish defenses.
San Francisco's defensive front might be even more intimidating. It dominates thanks to strongman Justin Smith and protects feared inside linebackers NaVorro Bowman and Patrick Willis.
The 49ers win through physical dominance. However, the Seahawks are their mirror image. Their offensive line is led by aggressive, young left tackle Russell Okung.
His blocking clears the way for battering ram running back Marshawn Lynch. Defensively, Carroll has moulded a unit led by a massive and destructive front four.
Hulking end Red Bryant and hybrid pass-rusher Chris Clemons combine to stuff running games and collapse pass pockets. Behind them, linebackers Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright are vicious hitters.
Of course trading for an extra weapon for their respective passing games, helps the most significant similarity. Both the 49ers and Seahawks are led by athletic and mobile young quarterbacks.
Colin Kaepernick and Russell Wilson terrorise defenses by manufacturing big plays. Both now have the weapons to carry on the success they achieved in 2012.
That means San Francisco and Seattle will continue to be locked in a direct battle to control the NFC West. They are both built to be the bully and that will ensure at least two brutal encounters every season.
For years the Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers epitomised this kind of rivalry. They owned the AFC North and were designed and re-designed to get the better of each other.
That's just what the 49ers and Seahawks are doing. It's no coincidence the 49ers traded for a big, physical receiver like Boldin. They'll need him to counter Seattle's aggressive, press cornerbacks, Brandon Browner and Richard Sherman.
Similarly, the Seahawks traded for a speedy, vertical threat like Harvin, after watching what speedsters Julio Jones and Torrey Smith did to the 49ers in the playoffs.
Both Carroll and Harbaugh know they have to beat the other to own the division. So the games between the two are getting more and more fractious.
In Week Seven of the 2012 season, the 49ers topped the Seahawks 13-6. It was a gruelling, defensive war of attrition. In Week 17 the Seahawks made the 49ers pay by a 42-14 scoreline.
The Seahawks certainly weren't shy about letting the 49ers know they just had to shut up and take it. Harbaugh's men aren't used to being bullied the way they were in Seattle.
Expect even more animosity in 2013, in what is fast growing into the best rivalry in the NFL.
image: © mikemorbeck