SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS (12-4-1)
at ATLANTA FALCONS (14-3)
NFC Championship Game
Kickoff: Sunday, 3:00 p.m. EDT
Line: San Francisco -4, Total: 48.5
The top two seeds in the NFC are each looking to secure Super Bowl berths for the first time in nearly 15 years when San Francisco visits Atlanta on Sunday afternoon.
The 49ers haven't played in a Super Bowl since the 1994 season, while Atlanta's only franchise Super Bowl appearance occurred after the 1998 campaign. The Falcons nearly let this opportunity slip away last week by letting a 20-point, fourth-quarter disappear before a last-second comeback at home in a 30-28 win over Seattle. They’re now 8-1 SU, but 4-5 ATS at home, and they haven’t been a home underdog since October 2011. QB Matt Ryan is 34-6 SU career at the Georgia Dome, and the Falcons have won 12 of 13 SU at home, with the lone loss coming in a meaningless Week 17 game. In two years under Jim Harbaugh, San Francisco is 6-1 SU and ATS in the Eastern time zone. QB Colin Kaepernick is coming off an NFL single-game quarterback record with 181 rushing yards in a 45-31 home win over Green Bay, but he went just 2-2 SU on the road as a starter during the 2012 regular season.
Who will win the NFC and advance to the Super Bowl? For the answer, connect to The Platinum Sheet for all the StatFox Experts picks for every NFL playoff game. So far during the playoffs, the experts are a collective 11-3 ATS, with Brian 4-0, Scott 2-0 and Gary 2-0.
Kaepernick finished with 444 total yards of offense last week with 263 through the air and 181 on the ground. Although he's just 2-2 SU on the road as a starter this year, he still has a solid 89.8 rating away from home with 7.7 YPA, 6 TD and 3 INT, while rushing for 170 yards on 29 carries (5.9 YPC). And although the Falcons ranked 5th in the NFL in scoring defense (18.7 PPG) during the regular season, they finished 24th in total defense (365.6 YPG), 23rd in passing defense (242.4 YPG) and 21st in rushing defense (123.2 YPG). The last time they faced a dual-threat quarterback like Kaepernick was in Week 14 at Carolina when Cam Newton burned them for 403 total yards (287 passing, 116 rushing) and 3 TD in a 30-20 rout. Kaepernick's passing has been greatly aided by WR Michael Crabtree, who has 657 receiving yards and 6 TD in his past six games, including 119 yards and 2 TD last week. And in the past three games, the Falcons have allowed 1,033 yards through the air (344 pass YPG). But one player who has not benefited from Kaepernick being under center is star TE Vernon Davis, who has only seven catches and zero touchdowns in his past seven games combined. The 49ers have rushed for at least 120 yards in eight of their past nine games, thanks mostly to RB Frank Gore, who is coming off a huge 119-yard performance (5.2 YPC) in the win over the Packers. Gore also caught two passes for 48 yards last Saturday night, giving him 413 total yards (138 YPG) in his three career postseason games. Ball protection will once again be a key here, as the Niners have four multi-turnover games on the road this year, and the Falcons have 11 takeaways in their past four home contests.
Falcons QB Matt Ryan finally earned his first career postseason win last week, completing 24-of-35 passes for 250 yards, 3 TD and 2 INT. That gives him just 14 TD and 12 INT in nine home games this year, compared to 21 TD and 5 INT on the road. And although he successfully navigated the waters against Seattle's sixth-ranked passing defense last week, the 49ers have been even better, placing 4th in the NFL with 200 passing YPG. They also have an elite pass rusher in DE Aldon Smith (19.5 sacks), but San Francisco recorded just one sack last weekend. Ryan certainly has an impressive arsenal for his receiving corps with WRs Roddy White and Julio Jones to go along with TE Tony Gonzalez. Each of these players caught at least five passes last week, combining for 186 receiving yards and two touchdowns. However, the most impressive part of the Falcons offense last week was the ground game that rumbled for 167 yards on just 26 carries (6.4 YPC) led by Michael Turner's 98 yards on 14 attempts (7.0 YPC). But the Niners also rank fourth in the NFL in rushing defense with 94 YPG allowed, and have held seven of the past eight opponents to under 110 rushing yards. Atlanta has done a nice job of protecting the football down the stretch, as even with last week's two giveaways, the Falcons have 0-or-1 turnovers in eight of their past 11 contests.