Despite nearly blowing it in the previous round, the Atlanta Falcons keep their home advantage going into the NFC Championship game. Despite playing in the Georgia Dome, they are the underdogs, going up against the San Francisco 49ers, the early season favorites from the conference to make the Super Bowl.
The man who will get most of the attention from both the media and the Falcons’ defense is Colin Kaepernick. For taking over the starting quarterback role from Alex Smith, and for is explosive performance on the ground against the Green Bay Packers in the Divisional round.
While Kaepernick is prone to having bad days, especially on the road, the sample size is too small, and the way he dominated and bounced back from throwing an interception might tell just how good and poised he is, ready to succeed, only one win away from the Super Bowl.
Kaepernick changes the way the 49ers play in two ways. He throws to the sidelines, which means Michael Crabtree enjoys the quarterback change a lot more, while Vernon Davis is left mostly as a decoy or a blocker on most plays. Crabtree is almost twice as efficient with Kaepernick behind Center than he was with Smith. The running ability is the other thing.
The Falcons have a problem handling quarterbacks who like to break out of the pocket, and especially with the read option. Last week Russell Wilson mostly handed off the balls on the read, but it’s unlikely that Kaepernick, running for 181 yards against the Packers, won’t try and test his legs against the Falcons’ defense more than once.
The big key for the Falcons isn’t just Matt Ryan’s receiving crew of Tony Gonzalez, Roddy White and Julio Jones, probably meaning the Falcons will play mostly with one running back and one tight end, trying to make the most of their one on one advantages while the 49ers try to counter with a nickel package, but Ryan himself, especially when the clock playing against him.
He has completed 70.1% of his passes in the final two minutes of either half this season, including 69.6% of his passes more than 10 yards downfield in those situations.
Predictions – For some reason, the Atlanta Falcons keep getting overlooked, despite remaining undefeated longer than anyone this season, despite having home field advantage. Their defense is underrated in its ability to make opponents look bad. If Matt Ryan keeps the same level of execution he has for most of the season, I think the Falcons have the edge in this one, despite Colin Kaepernick and the 49ers running game.