NFL: San Francisco 49ers at Atlanta Falcons for NFC Championship

Matt RyanFor the second year in a row, the San Francisco 49ers will be competing for a spot in the Super Bowl, this time against the Atlanta Falcons (3pm ET, Sunday).

Last season, against the New York Giants, the Niners came up short. This year however, they are led by a new and reinvigorated offense, with the goal being nothing shy of winning the franchises’ first championship since 1995.

The Atlanta Falcons are looking to end their own Super Bowl drought. Last week against Seattle, the Falcons pulled off a minor miracle to win in the games’ waning seconds. It marked Matt Ryan’s (pictured) fifth game winning drive of the season, which leads all quarterbacks. It also got the proverbial monkey off of the young quarterback’s back as it was the first time in four tries that the Falcons won a playoff game under Ryan and head coach Mike Smith.

Running with Kaepernick and San Francisco

San Francisco is led by second year breakout star, quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who has done it all this season with both his strong arm and his speedy legs. Since taking over for Alex Smith in week six, Kaepernick has proven his ability to run an NFL offense. While he has yet to record a 300+ yard passing game, he has in fact been able to step up when needed. Despite not being a 300 yard passer, Kaepernick excels in other areas, most notably the running game. Like other quarterbacks in their first or second year in the league, Kaepernick has shown to be part of the revolution at the position, signaling a change from the pass happy game to a more balanced attack.

Kaepernick was successful all season as a runner, but none more than in his first ever playoff game when he rushed for a rookie quarterbacks record 181 yards on two carries and two touchdowns. Having created this offense for himself, Kaepernick opened up the field in the passing game, having success there as well. He threw for 263 yards and added another two touchdowns, helping San Fran get past the perennial NFC favorites, the Green Bay Packers.

Helping Kaepernick in the running game has been Frank Gore, the eight year veteran out of the University of Miami. In all but two of his eight seasons, Gore has rushed for over 1,000 yards, doing so on no more than 312 attempts. His 2012 numbers of 1,214 yards and ten touchdowns (eight rushing, two receiving) marked the second highest of his career. Like Kaepernick, Gore came up huge in the Niners’ first and only postseason game of the 2012 season. He rushed for 119 yards on 23 attempts and a touchdown, also catching two passes for 48 yards.

Overall on the season, these two led the league’s fourth best rushing attack, averaging over 155 yards a game. Unfortunately, this does not bode well for Atlanta, as one of their biggest weaknesses this season was in stopping the run. On the season, the Falcons ranked 21st in this category, allowing hey did however relatively stop the Seahawks’ rushing attack, allowing just 106 yards, albeit also two touchdowns. Focused on stopping the run also meant giving up 385 yards to QB Russell Wilson in the passing game. Kaepernick is a similar quarterback and if the opportunities to run aren’t there, rest assured he will do exactly what Wilson did and find his plays in the passing game.

The Physical Play of the Atlanta Receiving Core

Atlanta boasts two of the most explosive and physical wide receivers in the league, as well as a talented running back and future Hall of Fame tight end.  Collectively, the group is one of the best in the NFL, bested only by the depth of the New England Patriots.

Leading the attack is the savvy veteran Roddy White, who has been everything Ryan has needed and with his talent, was the QB’s favorite target. He caught 92 passes to pace the Falcons while also finishing ninth in the NFL in both yards (1,351) and yards per game (84.4). In the team’s playoff win against Seattle, White led all Atlanta receivers with five receptions for 76 yards and a touchdown.

Julio Jones, one of the best and quickest route runners in the NFL, was also a reliable target for Ryan during the 2012 season. Jones finished third on the team in receptions with 79 and second in yards with 1,198. He led the team and was seventh among all wide receivers in the league with 10 touchdowns. Although he did not catch a touchdown in his second ever playoff game, White’s speed and size proved invaluable, as he caught the interception that prevented the Seahawks from completing a game winning “Hail Mary.”

Tony Gonzalez, the tight end, has been somewhat of a security blanket for Ryan, proving to be reliable and trustworthy. Gonzalez paced all Falcons receivers with team high 93 receptions. He also caught eight touchdowns on 930 receiving yards. He too caught a touchdown as well as five other receptions in his first ever playoff victory.

Led by these three and the continued growth of Ryan, the Falcons were the league’s sixth best passing offense, averaging over 280 yards a game. Unfortunately for them, the 49ers boast a physical secondary and one that matches up well against the Atlanta deep threats in Jones and White.

San Francisco 49ers at Atlanta Falcons Betting Picks

At home, where Atlanta is nearly unbeatable, the Falcons will put up a fight. They are coming into the game on a bit of an emotional high and will ride this through the match. Unfortunately, this doesn’t mean they will ride it to their second Super Bowl appearance in franchise history. San Francisco will be too tough and too physical on both offense and defense and this year, they will earn the coveted trip to the Super Bowl.

  • The spread is four points in favor of the Niners, and my expectation is that they cover it. USA residents should take the 49ers – 4pts @ -113 with BetOnline or -5pts @ -110 with Bovada. We prefer the first option.
  • Non-Americans should take San Francisco -3.5pts @ 10/11 with Ladbrokes, Pinnacle or William Hill.
  • The game should also be somewhat of a shootout and surpass the 48.5p points total allotted as well. Non-Americans should take over 48.5pts @ 10/11 with Bet365, SkyBet or Betfred.
  • Best betting odds for USA players is BetOnline’s -110 for over 48.5pts.