NFC Championship Game: San Francisco 49ers at Atlanta Falcons, Jan. 20, 2013 at 3:00 p.m. EST on FOX
Last week, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick was Mr. Spectacular, making all sorts of plays that a young quarterback starting in his eighth game should not be making. After his initial interception, he dominated the Packers defense, and he has rightly been the talk of the sports world this week. Meanwhile, Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan, Mr. Steady, who has consistently led the Falcons to strong regular season performances only to come up short in the NFL Playoffs, is waiting patiently to steal the show on Sunday.
The NFC Championship Game will likely present a tougher test than the Green Bay Packers proved to be for Kaepernick.
The Packers came unprepared and their performance was pathetic, particularly for a team as talented and experienced as Green Bay.
I do not expect the Falcons will lay down the way the Packers did following a solid victory against Seattle, the NFL’s hottest team going into the game.
The Falcons were very effective against the Seattle’s running game last week, and it was clearly a focus for their defense. However, Kaepernick and Gore present an even tougher two-headed monster to stop, and the 49ers also look to be stronger in the passing game. Kaepernick was on the mark last week against the Packers, and Michael Crabtree is one of the league’s hottest receivers right now. Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson torched the Falcons secondary last week.
I am still waiting for the week when Kaepernick and Vernon Davis begin developing similar chemistry that the former Nevada quarterback has developed with the former Red Raider, though Crabtree may be distracted after he was questioned by police regarding a sexual assault incident after last week’s victory over Green Bay. There still is not a tight end in the game with a better skill set than Davis, and his involvement in keeping the Falcons’ attention off of Crabtree will be a key to success for the 49ers.
For the Falcons, Ryan will need to do better than the two interceptions he threw against Seattle. The speed with which the 49ers run plays on offense will wear out the defense of the Falcons if they are given too many chances.
Michael Turner and Jacquizz Rodgers, Atlanta’s running backs, will need to be a more potent combination than Kaepernick-Gore to be able to keep pace.
If Kaepernick can have a relatively mistake-free game similar to last week, it is hard to envision a path to victory for the Falcons. The 49ers have an outstanding offensive line, and one of the best defenses in the game. Meanwhile, Matt Ryan doesn’t exactly present the same level of challenge to that defense as Aaron Rodgers.
So far in his eight game career, Colin Kaepernick has led the 49ers to victories over Tom Brady, Drew Brees, and Aaron Rodgers. Matt Ryan is about to be added to the list. The 49ers have the look of a champion right now, and I look for them to face Baltimore in the Super Bowl.
San Francisco 37, Atlanta 31
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