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Niners Enter Atlanta as Rare Road Favorite in NFC Championship Game

Aldon Smith

Smith could be a difference-maker in today's NFC Title game.

The fact the San Francisco 49ers are in the NFC Championship game is not surprising. They were their last year and even had the game at home in Candlestick Park but lost to the Giants. This season, they made a somewhat controversial switch at quarterback yet here they are back with another shot at the Super Bowl.

This time the Niners will have to go on the road if they plan to get to Super Bowl XLVII in New Orleans. Waiting for them in Georgia are the Falcons who got a huge monkey off their backs last week when they got that all-important first playoff win for Matt Ryan and Mike Smith when they beat Seattle. The 49ers are currently listed as a five-point favorite even though they are the road squad for this game.

Vegas is often impressed by what teams do in the week prior and San Francisco falls into that category. The Niners behind 181 rushing yards by Colin Kaepernick and another 100+ by Frank Gore, took Green Bay behind the woodshed in the second half. That, along with the fact the defense harassed Aaron Rodgers all game long, have earned the Niners the favorite status in Atlanta. For the Falcons’ part, yes they’re the number one seed, but they needed Matt Ryan heroics and a 49-yard field goal to survive what would have been an embarrassing loss.

How the Niners Lose

Colin Kaepernick

Kaepernick needs to take care of the ball today in Atlanta.

The one clear advantage San Fran has entering this contest is on both the offensive and defensive lines. If you’re looking for a reason the Niners aren’t successful today than it will have to do with complacency and being out-coached. Atlanta will take every step to make sure they don’t get beat by the ground game of either Kaepernick or Gore.

If Atlanta can force San Francisco and Colin Kaepernick to have to throw the ball more than they want to then that could spell trouble for the Niners. Kaepernick has a great arm, but Atlanta does a nice job of disguising coverages under former Niners’ coach Mike Nolan and Kaepernick will make mistakes when he sits in the pocket.

Obviously the 49ers have to take care of the ball. If they turn the ball over and it results in points for the Falcons then that could mean the Niners would have to rely on the pass which something they do not want to do.

How the Niners Win

Might sound simple because it is, but if the 49ers get pressure with their defensive line and and can run the ball effectively on offense then the Falcons will have very little chance. If Niners’ defensive tackle Justin Smith is as dominant as he has been much of the season then that allows Aldon Smith even more room to operate as a pass rusher.

What San Francisco also must do is limit the catches by Julio Jones and Roddy White. There is no way these guys, and that can include Tony Gonzalez, will not get some catches, but the Niners must limit the yards after catch. Obviously what can aide in their ability to play pass defense is whether or not they can shut down the running game of the Falcons.

Head Coach Jim Harbaugh’s game plan will be simple. Run the ball, set up play-action and force Matt Ryan into turnovers which he will make on the defensive side. If they accomplish those three things there is no way the Niners can’t advance.

The Pick

Here’s an interesting stat regarding the Falcons; they give up more yards per carry to “running quarterbacks” then any other defense, yet against those QBs (Cam Newton twice), they are 4-1. Something will give today that’s for certain. The five-point spread on the road is concerning and I really think the Niners are just too hot not to take to win, but I like the Falcons to cover in a big 4th-quarter finish.


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