For the fist time ever, the Atlanta Falcons will host a NFC Championship game, and they will do so by hosting the San Francisco 49ers. The odd thing about this match up is that the Falcons are the NFC’s number-one seed, yet they are still considered the underdog. This is a prime example of how a team’s ending of the regular season can change one’s thinking.
The Falcons finished the regular season tied for the best record in the league. Bursting out of the gate, Atlanta won their first eight games of the season, but sputtered in the end by winning only two of their last four.
As for the 49ers, they won five of their last seven games, mainly due in part to a change at the quarterback position.
The big story in this game is 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick. In last week’s divisional round, Kaepernick made NFL history by rushing for the most yards by a quarterback ever in a single game (181).
The containment of San Francisco’s second-year quarterback will be determined if Falcons defensive end John Abraham plays or not. Abraham is listed as questionable for Sunday’s game after injuring his ankle in Atlanta’s divisional victory last week. Even if Abraham does play, one has to wonder if he will be well enough to contain the outside and keep Kaepernick in the pocket.
The X-factor for the 49ers will be tight end Vernon Davis. Since Kaepernick has become the starter, Davis’ numbers have dwindled dramatically. However, the Falcons have given up 890 yards to tight ends all season (10th most in the league). If there is ever a time for Davis to come out of his slump, this will be the time.
The only distraction that San Francisco has is the recent news of wide receiver Michael Crabtree. Just yesterday, Crabtree was questioned of an alleged sexual assault incident. Crabtree, the team’s leading receiver, hasn’t been arrested, and will play in Sunday’s conference championship game.
As for Atlanta’s offense, things look to be good. The Falcons have one of the best wide receiver duos in the league in Roddy White and Julio Jones. Furthermore, quarterback Matt Ryan has finally exorcised his demons and got his first postseason victory in four tries.
However, as good as things may seem for Ryan and the rest of the Falcons’ offense, they have to face a 49ers defense that is arguably one of the best in the league. San Francisco was ranked fourth in pass defense (200.2 yards per game), fourth in run defense (94.2 ypg), and third in overall defense (294.4 ypg) in the regular season.
Looking at the overall picture, this has the makings of an instant classic. Unfortunately, I can only pick one team to win. Just looking at both teams’ defenses, the 49ers seem to be the superior team. The overall dominance of San Francisco and the uncertainty of Abraham have made this pick a fairly easy one for me.
Prediction: 49ers 34, Falcons 24
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