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NFC Championship Preview

In the NFC Championship Game this Sunday, the Atlanta Falcons are one again underdogs at home. Can they prove once and for all that they are not an aberration, a regular season team that struggles when it counts, or will they get run over the Colin Kaepernick and the 49ers like the Green Bay Packers did last weekend?

The line has moved to four points in favor of the 49ers, an unimaginable handicap for a team on the road against the number one seed in the conference. It speaks to just how thoroughly Las Vegas does not trust these Falcons to get it done in tough spots. However, the dominant performance of the Niners last weekend has many thinking Super Bowl for Kaepernick’s crew. The mobile quarterback did anything he wanted against the Packers last weekend, setting an NFL record for most rush yards by a quarterback in any game ever, regular season or postseason. It was the kind of performance that makes you think you’re witnessing a changing of the guard in the NFL, and while we have seen many mobile quarterbacks before, none have moved with the fluidity and grace of Kaepernick. He tore through Green Bay’s defense like they had their feet rooted in the turf and he was the only player free to run.

“It feels good,” Kaepernick said. “We’re one step closer to where we want to be. I feel like I had a lot to prove. A lot of people doubted my ability to lead this team.”

However, the Falcons should not be underestimated. They have two of the best big play threats in all of football in wide receivers Roddy White and Julio Jones, and as they showed in their final 40-yard drive to set up the game winning field goal against the Seattle Seahawks last weekend, they can pick up massive chunks of yardage through the air virtually at will. However, the Falcons have been stubbornly committed to the running game all season, and while their two backs, Michael Turner and Jacquizz Rodgers, found unexpected success against Seattle last weekend, that performance was the exception to the rule. Seattle’s best run stopping defensive lineman, defensive end Chris Clemons, was out with an injury, a hole that opened up Atlanta’s running game. With San Fran’s Justin Smith coming back from injury and rounding back into shape, the Falcons won’t find the same accommodating holes they did against Seattle.

Ultimately, this game will come down to two things; unlike last weekend’s slate, you can concretely predict the outcome based on how these factors go. If Atlanta can jump out to a large early lead and simultaneously stop the Niners from running, they will absolutely win the game. However, if San Francisco controls the clock and the tempo of play and Atlanta can’t get anything going on the ground, the 49ers will win. San Fran, being built around the run, absolutely cannot play from behind. Atlanta, on the other hand, can’t become one dimensional in the passing game. The 49ers must pound the ball on the ground like they’ve been doing all along.

“We all know it’s hard to get back to this point, but we did it,” said running back Frank Gore. “We also know how that feeling was when we didn’t get the job done last year. We’ll try our best to not get that feeling again.”

Matt Ryan, meanwhile, finally broke through with his first playoff win last weekend.

“Our goal is not to win one playoff game,” said Matt Ryan. “Our goals are still in front of us. We still have two more games to go. That’s the mindset I have. That’s the mindset this team has.”

Ultimately, I think the 49ers win, but in a close game decided by a field goal.

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