The Falcons are coming off a 30-28 victory over the Seattle Seahawks in the NFC Divisional game a week ago. The Falcons held a 20-0 lead, but the Seahawks rallied behind their star rookie quarterback, Russell Wilson, to take a 28-27 lead. Fortunately for Atlanta, quarterback Matt Ryan was able to lead his offense down the field for a game winning field goal attempt. Falcons placekicker Matt Bryant converted the kick from 49 yards, rescuing Atlanta from another early first round playoff exit.
Meanwhile, the 49ers didn’t need to resort to such heroics in their NFC Divisional game against the Green Bay Packers. San Francisco held court at home, defeating the Packers 45-31. 49ers’ quarterback Colin Kaepernick was shaky early in the game. He tossed an interception that was returned 52 yards for a touchdown by Green Bay cornerback Sam Shields. Such a predicament would send most young quarterbacks into a shell for the remainder of the game.
However, Kaepernick is no regular quarterback. He seized the opportunity by throwing two touchdown passes. He also shredded the Packers’ defense for 181 rushing yards, an NFL playoff record for quarterbacks. For good measure, Kaepernick also scored two rushing touchdowns to secure the victory for San Francisco.
The 49ers boast a myriad of offensive weapons in addition to Kaepernick. Veteran running back Frank Gore remains a stalwart in the 49ers’ backfield. Wide receiver Michael Crabtree is coming into his own as a big play receiver. On the other side is veteran Randy Moss, who can still provide efficiency at age 35. Factor in the speed and great pass catching ability of tight end Vernon Davis and it’s easy to see why San Francisco is the favorite in this contest.
Atlanta also features efficient players on offense in addition to Ryan at quarterback. Running back Michael Turner is a tough, physical runner who has the speed to run away from defenders. The Falcons have two fast, dependable wide receivers in Roddy White and Julio Jones to provide long pass play ability. If White and Jones are covered, Ryan can always throw to first ballot Hall of Famer Tony Gonzalez anytime. Gonzalez, a 13 time Pro Bowler, won the first playoff game of his illustrious career last week against Seattle. At 36 years of age, he will likely retire at season’s end. Of course, he would like to end his career with a Super Bowl victory. But his Falcons have to get past the 49ers for him to realize that goal.
Prediction: While Atlanta has the better record, it is San Francisco that has the edge. Their defense is just as talented as their offense, if not more so. 49ers’ defensive end Aldon Smith has been a terror for opposing offenses in 2012, as his 19.5 sacks were second in the NFL. Factor in the stellar play of linebackers Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman, and it’s hard to imagine the Falcons being able to move the ball offensively. All signs point to a convincing 49ers victory, which ensures a Super Bowl appearance for one of the NFL’s most prolific franchises.
Final score: 49ers 35, Falcons 21.