Seahawks' success must fuel 49ers

The San Francisco 49ers-Seattle Seahawks rivalry changed Sunday night.

The Seahawks did what the 49ers couldn't do last year. They departed the Super Bowl with hardware and rings. They rule this rivalry now.

We talked a couple of weeks ago about the 49ers' Super Bowl window being wide open. There's no question about that. But the 49ers have one daunting task -- they must find a way to topple their NFC West rival.

In the hours after the Seahawks plastered the Denver Broncos, 43-8, Sunday in to become world champions, Seattle star cornerback Richard Sherman told Sports Illustrated: “the NFC Championship was the Super Bowl. The 49ers were the second-best team in the NFL.”

There is no doubt about it. These are the two best teams in the league. But that fact doesn't do anything for the 49ers right now. The Seahawks are the best team and they have achieved the ultimate goal.

I expect that nagging fact to fuel the 49ers. In fact the reality that the Seahawks, who beat the visiting 49ers in the final seconds of the NFC title game, have hoisted the Lombardi Trophy may motivate the 49ers as much as being 5 yards from winning last year's Super Bowl did last offseason.

The Seahawks earned what the 49ers want. The 49ers have to live with that.

Again, the key to a Super Bowl win in San Francisco is getting past the Seahawks. That will be the focus of the offseason. The difference between the two teams in 2013 was the Seahawks finished 13-3 and the 49ers finished 12-4. That was it. It gave then Seahawks home-field advantage in the playoffs. Game over.

The 49ers must win the NFC West in 2014 and stay out of Seattle in the playoffs.

How do they do that? Just stay the course. The 49ers are in good shape moving forward. If they keep the right free agents, draft well and perhaps add receiving weapons, there's no reason to think this won't be a Super Bowl contending team next season.

The problem for the 49ers is that Seattle is also primed to make a successful Super Bowl defense and keep their edge over the 49ers.