The winner of the upcoming NFC divisional matchup between the Green Bay Packers and San Francisco 49ers has to be considered the favorite to win Super Bowl XLVII in New Orleans next month.
Both teams feature offenses that can score points in a hurry, and both teams feature defenses that can get after the quarterback—a must in the NFL playoffs.
Let's take a look at what's going to potentially happen from here on out.
49ers and Falcons Win
The 49ers match up extremely well with the Atlanta Falcons.
The Falcons aren't adept at stopping the run, ranking No. 21 in the NFL in 2012, and Frank Gore and the 49ers rushing attack will pound the ball all game long.
Colin Kaepernick and Michael Crabtree have been clicking at a high level of late, too, and the 49ers shouldn't have any trouble moving the ball against the Falcons.
On the other side, the 49ers feature a secondary capable of keeping the Falcons' talented receiving corps at bay. Chris Culliver is fast enough to hang with Julio Jones, while Tarell Brown and Carlos Rogers would handle Roddy White and Harry Douglas.
NaVorro Bowman and Patrick Willis are the best linebackers in the NFL at locking down the middle of the field in passing situations, and though Tony Gonzalez would certainly have some measure of success, I'm putting my money on the crew from San Francisco to win the war.
Given the fact that the Falcons are among the worst running teams in the NFL, the 49ers defense would focus on getting pressure on Matt Ryan and forcing him into bad decisions—of which he's made a few this year.
49ers and Seahawks Win
The last time these two teams met at Candlestick, the 49ers beat up on the Seahawks, winning in the trenches and forcing Russell Wilson into one of his worst games of the year (9-of-23, 122 yards, 0 TD, 1 INT) in San Francisco's 13-6 Week 7 win.
And while Wilson has certainly improved since that time, the fact remains that the 49ers will have the edge at home—especially on defense.
The loss of Chris Clemons will certainly make things difficult for the Seahawks. He was a stalwart for this team, leading Seattle in sacks and holding the edge on running plays with determination and skill. Rookie Bruce Irvin is far from ready to take on that responsibility, and the 49ers would be wise to run at him all game long.
Kaepernick struggled in Seattle in Week 16, but he'll be back at home this time, away from the insane crowd noise the "12th Man" generates at CenturyLink Field.
This game would certainly be another physical battle, but one I'd expect the 49ers to win at home.
Packers and Falcons Win
If these two teams face one another in the NFC Championship Game, I envision Aaron Rodgers going off on the Falcons in the same way he did against the Houston Texans at Reliant Stadium in Week 6.
The Falcons aren't adept at bringing pressure to opposing quarterbacks, and after facing the 49ers in the divisional round, Rodgers will be ready to let loose.
The Falcons do feature one of the best safety combos in the NFL in Thomas DeCoud and William Moore, but the Packers wide receivers would win many a battle against Asante Samuel and Dunta Robinson.
Another aspect of the Falcons defense that will get them into trouble in this contest is its inability to stop the run. The Packers have been much more balanced of late, running the ball as much as they throw it. And a running game combined with Rodgers' arm is a dangerous thing.
On the other side of the ball, the Packers have gotten much better at defending the pass in the second half of the season—especially since Clay Matthews came back.
Atlanta won't be able to score enough points to keep up with Rodgers and the Packers. Period.
Packers and Seahawks Win
Tell me you don't want to see this matchup a little bit, even if you're a 49ers fan. I mean, if the Packers do defeat the Niners at Candlestick, the only matchup I want to see is a repeat of the infamous "Fail Mary" game.
And I guarantee you the outcome would be different—especially at Lambeau Field in January.
The loss of Clemons will hurt the Seahawks tremendously in this contest as well, as he was one of the chief men responsible for making Rodgers' life miserable in Seattle earlier this year.
And as well as Russell Wilson has played the past two months, I don't see him having a good game at Green Bay with Matthews and Charles Woodson healthy.
The only way the Seahawks win this matchup is if Rodgers can't play.
49ers vs. AFC Champ
Whether it's the Baltimore Ravens, Houston Texans, Denver Broncos or New England Patriots, the 49ers have the edge, based on their ability to smother any offense.
The 49ers already proved once this year that they can defeat Tom Brady and the Patriots, and the biggest surprise there was the stellar play of Kaepernick on the road.
And things won't be any different against the other three teams. The Niners have a defense that can shut down any offense, and they have an offense than can score points on any defense.
Packers vs. AFC Champ
If the Packers come out of Candlestick with a victory on Saturday, they will have already faced and defeated their greatest test of the postseason.
They will certainly win the NFC Championship Game, and then I just don't see any reason to bet against Aaron Rodgers in the Super Bowl. He's the best quarterback in the NFL—no disrespect to Tom Brady or Peyton Manning—and if he gets past the 49ers, I see him going on an epic run to win Super Bowl XLVII.
Whichever team wins on Saturday at Candlestick Park has a first-class ticket to New Orleans. May the battle be clean, and may the best team come away victorious.
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