Atlanta Falcons – Keys to Victory

It seems the Atlanta Falcons have used more than a couple of formulas to reach the NFC championship game this season, but Matt Ryan making the most of his tight end, Tony Gonzalez, while also relying on the history with the San Francisco 49ers, will be the important things to remember when the two teams meet on Sunday.

The best thing about their game against the 49ers? The Falcons simply don’t lose to them. The teams last met in the 1998-1999 postseason in the NFC Divisional playoffs, with the Falcons winning 20-18 on their way to the Super Bowl. Previously being NFC West rivals, since the 2002 realignment, the two teams have met four times, all of them won by the Falcons.

Matt Ryan being great in crunch time, be it by throwing a winning touchdown but generally in creating game winning drives, is something that is one of those things that stats don’t always tell about a team. For three times this season, including the final 31 seconds against the Seahawks last week, the Falcons were led by Ryan to game winning drives beginning in the final minute of the fourth quarter.

Roddy White has caught passes for at least 1153 yards each season since Matt Ryan came from Boston College, but he might not be the most dangerous receiving partner for the quarterback. Tony Gonzalez, who caught 99 passes in the 17 games of this season so far lines up in the slot quite a few times, creating problems for defenses to stop him, even after so many years. Gonzalez has had 55 receptions when lined up in the slot, including three in the divisional playoff.

The 49ers do know how to stop tight-ends, allowing a league low 8.78 yards per completion to tight ends through the divisional round, but 8 of the 19 touchdown passes they’ve given up this season have been to TEs. That was the second-highest percentage in the NFL behind Denver. Only five teams allowed more scoring passes to tight ends.