It’s the first time the Atlanta Falcons will host an NFC Championship Game, and it’s the second consecutive year the San Francisco 49ers will appear in said game.
Last year, the 49ers hosted the championship game and lost 20-17 to the New York Giants. There’s little doubt San Francisco (12-4-1) will look for that extra nudge to get over the hump and earn themselves a trip to Super Bowl XLVII.
However, the 49ers have a bit of playoff history working against them since they haven’t won a playoff game on the road in 24 years. With that said, San Francisco’s past should have little to do with the result of Sunday’s game.
Atlanta (14-3) alleviated a bit of pressure after finally getting that elusive playoff win last week over the Seattle Seahawks. Now, the Falcons should be able to play a bit looser. They’ll have their hands full against Colin Kaepernick and the visiting 49ers, though.
Kaepernick presents a threat because of his abilities to both run and throw the football. The Falcons have trouble defending dual-threat quarterbacks; Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton averaged 352 yards (251 passing; 101 rushing), three touchdowns (two passing; one rushing), and no turnovers in both games versus Atlanta.
There’s no doubt the 49ers will try to emulate the success Newton had against the Falcons. Kaepernick’s game is similar to Newton’s, so Atlanta could be in for a long day if they’re unable to contain the quarterback.
The Falcons also have to be worried about the rapport Kaepernick has built with wide receiver Michael Crabtree. Since Kaepernick’s first start in Week 10, Crabtree has been on a tear. Including the divisional round match-up against the Green Bay Packers, the receiver has hauled in 55 balls for 784 yards and eight touchdowns.
Similar to last week, Atlanta has to face another league-leading rushing team. The 49ers were ranked fourth in the league, averaging 155.7 rushing yards per game in the regular season. Against the Packers last week, the team totaled 323 rushing yards with Kaepernick leading the way with 181.
Atlanta’s offense answered the call last week by putting up 30 points on the league’s top-ranked scoring defense. It was the first time all season the Seahawks had allowed 30 points in game. The Falcons offense will have to take on another tall order when they face San Francisco’s second-ranked scoring defense. However, the 49ers defense has shown a bit of vulnerability lately, giving up 30+ points in the last three out of four games.
The Falcons running game showed up in a big way last week as they put up 167 yards rushing. Michael Turner looked like his 2008 version, and Jacquizz Rodgers had a career-long run of 45 yards. The Falcons will need an encore performance out of the running backs on Sunday.
Matt Ryan played well last week, and if the Falcons win this game, he’ll likely be the main reason. The quarterback thrives under pressure, as evident by his knack for putting together game-winning drives.
San Francisco and Seattle have striking similarities. While I don’t think the Falcons will have the same success running the ball, I do think they have a pretty good chance to win. In any case, they certainly shouldn’t be 4.5-point underdogs.
Points Scored: 26.2 (7th)
Total Offense: 369.1 (8th)
Passing Offense: 281.8 (6th)
Rushing Offense: 87.3 (29th)
Points Allowed: 18.7 (5th)
Total Defense: 365.6 (24th)
Passing Defense: 242.4 (23rd)
Rushing Defense: 123.2 (21st)
San Francisco 49ers:
Points Scored: 24.8 (11th)
Total Offense: 361.8 (11th)
Passing Offense: 206.1 (23rd)
Rushing Offense: 155.7 (4th)
Points Allowed: 17.1 (2nd)
Total Defense: 294.4 (3rd)
Passing Defense: 200.2 (4th)
Rushing Defense: 94.2 (1st)