Sunday afternoon’s NFC Championship game is full of intrigue. There’s a lot on the line for the head coaches and quarterbacks playing in the game. The Atlanta Falcons Mike Smith and Matt Ryan desperately need a win to shed their ‘choke-artist’ images. While San Francisco 49ers’ Jim Harbaugh needs a W to validate his risky move of benching steady-handed starter Alex Smith in favor of Smith’s young, versatile backup: Colin Kaepernick.
Contrary to some people’s opinions, I don’t believe the Smith/Ryan era has been legitimized with last week’s narrow victory over the Seattle Seahawks. The Falcons were supposed to win that game. They were at home, favored, and playing against a wild-card team. Despite their best efforts to blow it, ‘Matty Ice’ made a couple big passes and squeaked out the W. But, in Denny Green’s immortalized words, let’s now “crown ‘em” quite yet. However, a Super Bowl appearance would go a long way in defining this Falcons’ era.
On the other side of the field, Jim Harbaugh will desperately try to avoid joining the Andy Reid club by losing consecutive NFC Championships. And while Kaepernick was absolutely awesome last week, Harbaugh still walks the thin line between ‘genius’ and ‘too smart for his own good’. If Kaep has a good game, Harbaugh will go down in history for making one of the ballsiest personnel moves in NFL history. If the kid lets the pressure get to him and throws a few picks, the media (with the benefit of hindsight) will inevitably question the decision to bench game-managing-extraordinaire Smith in favor of the big risk/big reward kid.
Perhaps what is most intriguing about this matchup is the fact that the Falcons, the number one seed and home team, are five point underdogs. While it makes sense considering San Francisco blew-out the Green Bay Packers last week, common wisdom says that Vegas gives the home team three points automatically. So, in essence, the 49ers are projected to be 8 points better than the Falcons. Can this be true?
Perhaps the bookies in Vegas have been drinking too much of the “Kaepernick Kool-aid” but then again, Vegas odd-makers know their stuff. It should be mentioned that a home team in a championship game hasn’t been five point ‘dogs since 1978. But recent history shows maybe this isn’t such a bad thing for Atlanta. Home underdogs in playoff history are 21-14 (straight-up).
Regardless of what Vegas has to say, there’s plenty on the line for these two teams–which usually makes for a compelling television. Tune in Sunday at 1 ET to see which Head Coach/QB combo will be getting ripped