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NFL Atlanta FalconsSan Francisco 49ers

2013 NFL Playoffs: Falcons vs. 49ers NFC Championship Preview

Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

The Atlanta Falcons are hosting their first-ever NFC Championship game on Sunday (not that you’d really know it), and are 4.5 point underdogs to the visiting San Francisco 49ers. The number-one seed in the conference playing at home, and is picked to lose to the number-two seed, who hasn’t won a road playoff game since Ronald Reagan was in office.  Welcome to teacher’s pet football.

Despite the topsy-turvy betting line and the refusal of anyone who sits in front of a camera or microphone outside the city of Atlanta to give the Falcons any credit, this is going to be one heck of a football game.

The Falcons and 49ers are a lot more evenly matched than most believe, and if you think last week’s divisional game with the Seattle Seahawks was a televised cardiac arrest, then you need to get your nitroglycerin pills handy for this one. It won’t be pretty, and a few coffee tables are liable to be sent to the curb when all is said and done.

The 49ers always play a rough, physical game; both their offensive and defensive lines are some of the best in the league. They love to snowplow people in the run game, and have athletic enough players on both sides to run sideline to sideline when needed, so the Falcons are going to need to take that “pretty good” job they did on the lines last week against Seattle, and take it up a notch or two. The Falcons offensive guards and tackles will have firm of Smith & Smith to deal with (Justin and Aldon) trying to make life miserable for Matt Ryan and the Atlanta running backs.

The Falcons have already stated unequivocally that Niners QB Colin Kaepernick is going to take a few lumps, and the guys catching the passes from Colin the Conqueror will need to be wary of William Moore, Dunta Robinson and Thomas DeCoud — who all love to leave a lasting memory in the form of a shoulder pad-shaped tattoo on the guys they are covering. Roger Goodell should just go ahead and get his steno pad out now to write down the names of guys who he might need to contact after the game.

The 49ers running game is good, but is countered by the Falcons passing game. When all is said and done, we could be looking at Matt Ryan’s eighth game-winning drive of the 2012-13 season, and Matt Bryant‘s second game-winning kick in as many weeks.

The big X-factor in this game is going to be Atlanta’s attitude. Everyone has been telling the Falcons they can’t, just like they did against the New York Giants about a month ago (anyone remember how that one ended?), and coupled with finally shedding the “they can’t win a playoff game” stigma, this is going to be a fast and loose team. The favored 49ers may just come in a bit overconfident after their convincing win over the Green Bay Packers.

Series History:  49ers lead 44-29-1

Current Streak: Falcons have won last four meetings since 2001

Playoff Series History: Falcons lead 1-0

Last Meeting: Falcons beat 49ers 16-14 on Oct. 3, 2010

Prediction: Home field advantage and a relaxed but aggressive team with a lot to prove and going to be too much for the 49ers to overcome. The Falcons force Kaepernick into just enough mistakes to cost them the game. Falcons win 28-24.

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Michael Collins is a Rant Sports NFL Network Manager, and Atlanta sports columnist. Follow him @GaSportsCraze on Twitter and here on Facebook