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NFL Atlanta FalconsSan Francisco 49ers

San Francisco 49ers vs. Atlanta Falcons: NFC Championship Game X-Factors

Josh D. Weiss-US PRESSWIRE

We are getting closer and closer to seeing who will compete in Super Bowl XLVII and this article is a look at a few potential X-factors for the NFC Championship tilt between the San Francisco 49ers and the Atlanta Falcons. As the 2013 NFL Playoffs Insider for Rant Sports, I have a detailed game preview RIGHT HERE.

For the visiting 49ers I will pick rookie LaMichael James as their X-factor. The former Oregon Ducks star has only been active for a month, but he is a guy who can contribute in a few different ways on Sunday.

The 49ers running game is superb, and we know the offensive line plus guys like Colin Kaepernick and Frank Gore are the main cogs, but James has been getting in on the fun recently too. In his past two games he has averaged 7.0 yards per carry in each of them, and if he can contribute in addition to the usual cast of characters for San Fran then they pretty much become unstoppable. His speed on the Georgia Dome turf could prove to be an effective additional weapon for Jim Harbaugh on Sunday.

This young man has also taken on the kick return duties, and he has been very good with that. Last week he had just one kickoff return and it went for just 23 yards which was his only game where he did not reel off at least one kickoff return of 30+ yards (his longest so far was a 62 yard return). I could see a scenario where the Falcons score through the air like they want to, feel good about it, but only to have James rip off a big return and immediately set up the Niners in good field position to answer the Falcons score. X-factor.

My Falcons X-factor last week was linebacker Stephen Nicholas as I figured he needed to have a great game vs the Seattle Seahawks and their impressive running attack. Nicholas was good, and so were his fellow linebackers Akeem Dent and Sean Weatherperson. This trio will be my X-factor for this week.

The Seahawks were averaging a whopping 155 rushing yards on the road (no.2 in the NFL) and the Falcons were yielding an average of 130 rushing yards at home, but they held the combo of Russell Wilson and Marshawn Lynch to 106 combined rushing yards. This 49ers team is a different animal as their running game is morphing into something special right before our eyes. Opposing linebackers have been befuddled constantly by the way the Niners use different formations to run out of. Kaepernick is capable of tearing up massive chunks of yards (even touchdowns) so this Falcons team needs to be greatly prepared to recognize their keys and strategies by Mike Nolan.

The 49ers can be as aggressive and explosive through their running game as other teams are in their passing game so Nolan’s defense, especially the linebackers, have their work cut out for them. They were excellent vs the very good Seahawks running attack, and they will have to step up even more to slow down the 49ers running game.

We know who the big names will be on Sunday, but to earn a birth to Super Bowl XLVII these teams will need other players to step up as well. Thank you for checking out my work! If you enjoyed the read please do pass it on…

CLICK HERE for all of my NFL Playoffs articles including the Baltimore Ravens at New England Patriots X-factors article … craigballard77@myself.com , @craigballard77