The San Francisco 49ers will make the long distance trip east to Atlanta for a meeting with the Falcons in the Georgia Dome. Both squads had massive expectations entering the 2012 campaign and are one step closer to fulfilling the goals they set out. The 49ers are no stranger to the NFC Championship game as they were minutes away from making it to the Super Bowl, just to have it snatched away from them as a result of a Kyle Williams muffed punt return. Motivation is definitely the issue going into this one for the 49ers. Interestingly enough the quarterback that led them to that game, Alex Smith, will be sitting on the sidelines watching the ultra talented Colin Kaepernick. The Falcons on the other hand have expected big things out of Matt Ryan ever since they drafted him in 2008. His career has been filled with successful regular seasons and less than stellar playoff appearances. Nevertheless, Ryan has the opportunity to make fans forget about all that with a win over the ‘Niners with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line.
The Falcons nearly let it all slip away last week. After getting out to a big lead, the Seahawks mounted an unbelievable comeback after falling behind by 20. Marshawn Lynch’s plunge in the end zone with 31 seconds left appeared to be the game winner. Ryan had different ideas. He completed 2 passes to get Matt Bryant into field goal range where he ended up knocking the 49-yard field goal home which capped off a crazy game. The Falcons offense was on fire for 3 quarters, but got content to sit back on their lead in the 4th, leading to the near choke job. Ryan completed 24 out of 35 passes for 250 yards, 3 touchdowns, and 2 interceptions. The biggest surprise came out of the run game. Everyone knows how stingy the Seahawks defense can be in all aspects of the game, so the yardage they were ripping off was not to be expected. Michael Turner finished with 98 yards on only 14 carries (7 yard average). Jacquizz Rodgers scampered for 64 yards on just 10 carries as well (6.4 average). The offense has been the catalyst that propelled the Falcons to this point, averaging 369 yards per game and 26.2 points. They will be going against another top-ranked defense this week, so it will be interesting to see if they can pour on the points against a formidable opponent once again.
The Falcons defense shouldn’t be ignored, as they have had some success this year as well. There were holes that were exploited last week against a running quarterback that presented some question marks, though. Kaepernick is a similar kind of quarterback, so the Falcons must do a much better job containing him this time around. I do not think the Falcons will be able to score 30 points on the 49ers defense, so the Falcons’ defense has to step up. Their defense ranked 24th in terms of yards allowed, but only allowed 18.7, a number that ranks near the top of the league. After getting exposed last week by a similar quarterback, they should be much more versed in that style of quarterbacking this week.
Since the emergence of Colin Kaepernick, the 49ers quite possibly possess the most balanced team in the NFL. In my opinion they are the most balanced team left in the playoffs, so they do have a legitimate shot at winning it all. The Broncos were a well balanced team as well and that didn’t turn out so well for them, nothing is a guarantee in this league. Last week, the Packers were hapless trying to contain the ‘Niners offense. Kaepernick did whatever he wanted to with his legs and arm. He finished with 263 yards and two touchdowns through the air, with 181 on the ground with another two touchdowns. After throwing a pick-6 to open the game up, Kaepernick settled in like a wily veteran and didn’t let it bother him. I do not believe there was much confidence in the 49ers to win that game after the series of events that unfolded in the first minute of play. The 49ers have an outstanding defense as well to go along with their new, dynamic offense. They ranked 3rd in the NFL in terms of yards allowed, 4th against the run, and 4th against the pass. Just like the Falcons, they do an excellent job limiting points scored, allowing only 17.1 per game.
49ers vs. Falcons Spread and Betting Odds:
San Francisco 49ers -3.5 (-110)
@ Atlanta Falcons +3.5 (-110)
Over 49 (-110)
Under 49 (-110)
Betting odds provided by Bovada.lv
49ers vs. Falcons Pick:
After the way both of these defenses played last week the over seems like a logical play here. Both were at their worst, getting into shootouts with missed assignments were the norm. Nevertheless, both of these teams can force opposing teams into mistakes and make life miserable on the field. The Falcons at first glance appear to have a bad defense, but they only allow 18.7 points a game which is better than some of the more popular defenses in the league. The Steelers and Texans both gave up more points than the Falcons did per game. Now while they had a tough time against Russell Wilson last week, I think facing a quarterback like him will benefit them this week. Kaepernick is a similar quarterback that will present them with similar looks in the option game. The Georgia Dome is also going to be a deafening madness that isn’t going to let Kaepernick have an easy go at it. One of Kapepernick’s favorite targets, Michael Crabtree, is also being investigated for sexual assault. It appears that he will be playing at this point, but it may have an impact on Crabtree’s frame of thought.
The 49ers are also stubborn in allowing points. While they allowed 31 to the Packers last week, 7 of those were due to a pick-6. I think we could get off to a timid start, with both teams feeling out each other in this NFC Championship. I simply can’t see Kaepernick walking into the Georgia Dome and doing whatever he pleases in this mad house. I can certainly see both teams getting into the low 20s, keeping the game under the posted total.
PICK = UNDER 49