New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton, left, hugs Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll after an NFC divisional playoff NFL football game in Seattle, Saturday, Jan. 11, 2014. The Seahawks won 23-15.
After beating up on each other twice earlier this season, Pete Carroll was not surprised to see San Francisco as the opponent coming to Seattle for the NFC championship game.
He believes the division foes, with one of the most heated rivalries in the NFC, meeting for a trip to the Super Bowl is validation for how good the once-mocked NFC West has become.
"This matchup is exactly what everybody is looking for and it's an exciting one with a lot of background," Carroll said on Monday.
"I'm grateful it's coming from our division. I think our division really made a statement this year about how good we were and lot of losses came within the division. When you look at it this is a fantastic matchup with a great opportunity for both teams."
Seattle (14-3) advanced to the NFC title game after knocking off New Orleans 23-15 in the divisional round on Saturday.
It's the second NFC championship game appearance for Seattle and third overall having once played for the AFC title.
There is familiarity and contempt when it comes to San Francisco and Seattle.
They've played six times since San Francisco coach Jim Harbaugh arrived before the 2011 season with the 49ers holding a 4-2 advantage. But of Seattle's four losses, only one — the first — has been by more than seven points.
Seattle and San Francisco split the two games this season with each winning at home.
The Seahawks rolled to a 29-3 win in Week 2, and the 49ers kicked a late field goal for a 19-17 win in Week 14.
Perhaps it's appropriate that the series record is tied 15-15 heading into Sunday with more at stake than ever before.
"It shows how good the NFC West has been over the past couple of years," Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson said.
"It's going to be a great challenge for both teams. It's going to be a physical game. It's going to be a game where everybody knows each other and everybody knows everybody's techniques so we just have to play great football and execute and be on time make the plays when we need to make them."
Seattle goes into the week with two lingering injury questions.
The first is with wide receiver Percy Harvin, who made his return on Saturday and suffered a concussion late in the first half.
Carroll emphasized Monday they will "respect the heck" out of the process for Harvin to get cleared and said Wednesday and Thursday will be the important days if he's able to get back on the field.
Harvin took two big hits in the game, the first coming from Rafael Bush on the third play and drawing a 15-yard roughing penalty. Harvin also was hit by Malcolm Jenkins as he hit the field on the play he was injured.
Before he was injured, Harvin showed the flashes Seattle believed it was getting in mass quantity when it traded for him during the offseason.
Carroll said Harvin had no issues with his hip that was surgically repaired in August and the concern this week is strictly for his head. He added that Seattle playing on Saturday and Harvin having an extra day of recovery could be significant.
"We're going to take care of Percy and make sure we do the right thing. We're not going to stretch the limits at all. We're going to be very careful here. We'll do that every step of the way."
Aside from Harvin, Seattle is also waiting to see if linebacker K.J. Wright will play for the first time since suffering a fracture in his right foot against San Francisco in Week 14.
Wright had surgery after the injury and was back running last week. Carroll said he would be tested on Wednesday to see where he is at in his recovery.
"We ran well today and over the weekend," Carroll said. "He'll come back out on Wednesday and we'll see where he is. He has a chance and we're excited for him."