How San Francisco 49ers Match Up with Remaining Playoff Teams

Joseph AkeleyAnalyst IJanuary 13, 2013

How San Francisco 49ers Match Up with Remaining Playoff Teams

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    After routing the Green Bay Packers 45-31 on Saturday night, the San Francisco 49ers were being praised as the favorite to win Super Bowl XLVII by many pundits.

    Then, on Sunday, the New England Patriots clobbered the Houston Texans 41-28, stirring the debate of which team is the NFL's best.

    Not that the Baltimore Ravens and Atlanta Falcons are pushovers. They both won thrilling games this weekend, as Joe Flacco and Matt Ryan silenced a lot of critics with their performances. 

    Still, the talk of the league is Colin Kaepernick, who broke the NFL record for the most rushing yards by a quarterback in a single game by rushing for 181 yards against Green Bay.

    He added 263 passing yards and accounted for four touchdowns (two passing, two rushing) in leading the 49ers to 579 yards of total offense.

    With Kaepernick's emergence, along with their stellar defense, the 49ers have a great chance at winning it all. 

    The following slides break down how San Francisco matches up with the remaining playoff teams.

Atlanta Falcons

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    How Atlanta Got Here

    The Falcons blew a 20-point fourth quarter lead, allowing the Seahawks to score 21 unanswered points and take a one-point lead with 31 seconds left.

    That's when Matt Ryan had his defining drive.

    Ryan completed two passes for 41 combined yards to put Atlanta in field-goal range, and Matt Bryant kicked a game-winning 49-yard field goal that sent the Falcons to the NFC Championship Game.

     

    When the 49ers Have the Ball

    Atlanta did a decent job against Seattle's rushing offense, allowing 123 yards on 4.4 yards per carry. But the Falcons' pass defense was shredded by Russell Wilson, who threw for 385 yards and averaged 10.7 yards per attempt.

    Seattle's offense has several similarities to San Francisco's. Each offense features a dual-threat quarterback, a Pro Bowl running back and a lot of read option looks.

    The key for Colin Kaepernick will be getting off to a fast start. Wilson and the Seattle offense were held scoreless in the first half. Once they got in a rhythm, Atlanta didn't have an answer.

    If the 49ers can get on the board early, Kaepernick should be able to settle in and lead San Francisco on several touchdown drives.

    Advantage: 49ers

     

    When the Falcons Have the Ball

    San Francisco's defense will have its hands full with Julio Jones, Roddy White and Atlanta's passing attack.

    Ryan threw for 250 yards and two touchdowns without taking one sack against the Seahawks.

    If the 49ers play in nickel and dime packages for the majority of the game, they may struggle to contain Michael Turner and Jacquizz Rodgers. They combined for 162 yards on 24 carries against Seattle.

    San Francisco proved it could slow down a premier aerial assault in its win over Green Bay, but Atlanta has more talented receivers and running backs.

    Advantage: Falcons 

     

    Which Team Has the Edge?

    San Francisco has the better defense, but Atlanta has an incredible home-field advantage. Expect this game to go down to the wire, but for the 49ers' pass rush to get just enough pressure on Ryan to quell an Atlanta comeback attempt.

    Advantage: 49ers

Baltimore Ravens

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    How Baltimore Got Here

    Behind two Joe Flacco touchdowns passes, the Ravens disposed of the Indianapolis Colts 24-9 in the Wild Card Round.

    Baltimore then upset the Denver Broncos 38-35 in double overtime to advance to the AFC Championship Game. The Ravens allowed two special teams touchdowns to Trindon Holliday, yet they recovered to tie the game up at 28 late in the third quarter.

    Peyton Manning's third touchdown pass, a 17-yarder to Demaryius Thomas, gave Denver a 35-28 lead, which it held until less than a minute to go in regulation.

    Needing a miracle, the Ravens found one when Joe Flacco connected with Jacoby Jones on a 70-yard strike to tie the game with 31 seconds left. Justin Tucker's 47-yard field goal in double overtime was the nail in Denver's coffin.

     

    When the 49ers Have the Ball 

    The good: The Ravens have only allowed three offensive touchdowns in their two playoff games.

    The bad: The Ravens have allowed 817 yards in those games.

    Translation: They are bending, but they aren't breaking.

    Baltimore ranked 12th in scoring defense in the regular season, one spot behind Green Bay's rank. I don't see why the 49ers would have any issue moving the ball on the Ravens, but the key would be red zone efficiency.

    Baltimore had the league's second-best red zone defense in the regular season, and if it can hold San Francisco to several field goals, it could win this potential Super Bowl matchup.

    Still, after Kaepernick and Co. combined for 579 yards against a Green Bay defense that has similar stats to Baltimore's, I have to at least give a slight edge to the 49ers on this side of the ball.

    Advantage: 49ers

     

    When the Ravens Have the Ball

    Based on regular-season stats, San Francisco's defense would have a clear advantage over Baltimore's offense.

    But the emergence of Joe Flacco this postseason levels the playing field considerably.

    Flacco has tossed five touchdowns passes and zero interceptions in his two playoff games. More impressively, he's averaging 10.8 yards per attempt.

    Ray Rice also rushed for 131 yards against a talented Denver rushing defense. 

    That being said, when the Ravens and 49ers met in the regular season 14 months ago, San Francisco's defense held Ray Rice to 59 yards rushing and Flacco to 161 yards passing. The Ravens won that game 16-6.

    Since that game, Baltimore's offense and San Francisco's defense haven't changed much (aside from Flacco's performance during his current playoff run). 

    Eventually, the mediocre version of Flacco has to surface again, right?

    Advantage: 49ers

     

    Which Team Has the Edge?

    The Ravens shut down San Francisco's offense in last year's matchup, but that was obviously before Colin Kaepernick was starting, Michael Crabtree emerged as an elite wide receiver and the 49ers run game became one of the best in the NFL.

    This year, the Ravens have consistently struggled to slow down quality offenses, and if these teams face each other in Super Bowl XLVII, I would expect Baltimore's struggles to continue.

    Advantage: 49ers

New England Patriots

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    How New England Got Here

    Tom Brady threw for 344 yards and three touchdowns as the Patriots steamrolled the Texans 41-28.

    Brady's third touchdown pass, a 33-yarder to Shane Vereen, gave New England a 38-13 lead early in the fourth quarter. In other words, the final score doesn't indicate quite how lopsided this one really was.

     

    When the 49ers Have the Ball

    When these teams met a month ago, Colin Kaepernick threw four touchdown passes and the 49ers held on to beat the Patriots 41-34. San Francisco rushed for 180 yards, but New England did a decent job on Frank Gore, holding him to 83 yards on 21 attempts.

    There weren't many other positives for the Patriots defense. It allowed 107 yards and two touchdowns to Michael Crabtree. I'm not sure anyone in New England's secondary can contain Crabtree. After all, New England gave up the fourth-most yards through the air in the regular season.

    Advantage: 49ers

     

    When the Patriots Have the Ball

    When Justin Smith left the game with injuries in the regular-season matchup, the 49ers were up 31-10 in the third quarter. Brady would lead three consecutive touchdown drives after he left the game. 

    Smith played through the pain in his left arm against Green Bay, and he made a noticeable difference for the 49ers. 

    Still, I believe it is naive to suggest that his absence alone was the reason the Patriots offense dominated the 49ers defense in the second half of that game. The uptempo nature of New England's offense clearly tired out San Francisco's defense, and from there Brady's precision was unstoppable. 

    If these teams meet in the Super Bowl, expect Brady to get off to a much faster start now that he has some familiarity playing against San Francisco's defense.

    Advantage: Patriots

     

    Which Team Has the Edge?

    Although the 49ers topped the Patriots in Foxborough earlier this season, I don't think the 49ers have an edge if these teams played each other again. 

    Sure, Kaepernick would have his fair share of success throwing against New England, but Brady seemed to figure out how to beat this 49ers defense in the previous contest.

    Keep in mind that the Patriots had the best regular season point-differential in the league (+226), and they are guided by Bill Belichick, one of the greatest coaches in NFL history.

    On Saturday night, I wrote that the 49ers are the favorite to win the Super Bowl, but after watching the Patriots dismantle the Texans, this potential matchup feels like a tossup to me.

    Advantage: Too close to call


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