The Atlanta Falcons pulled out a thrilling victory over the Seattle Seahawks in the divisional round, but the road to the Super Bowl will still be extremely difficult, as they still have to host the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship Game.
Matt Ryan lived up to his nickname Matty Ice and orchestrated a drive that put the Falcons into field-goal range after falling behind in the final minute. Matt Bryant knocked the kick through the uprights for the 30-28 win, and Atlanta narrowly avoided a shocking collapse.
Now, the NFC’s No. 1 seed will have to take the 49ers, who are coming off of an impressive victory over the Green Bay Packers.
Both teams will have momentum heading into this game, but San Francisco will come out on top. Here are the players whose performances will send the 49ers to the Super Bowl.
DE Justin Smith
Smith is a difference-maker in the trenches, and his presence allows the San Francisco defense to be extremely effective against both the pass and the run.
He is very strong, and this makes him a dominant force as a run-stopper. But he is also athletic enough to play on passing downs, and his ability to occupy blockers has allowed Aldon Smith to flourish as a pass-rusher.
The outside linebacker has 33.5 sacks in his first two seasons as a pro, but when the veteran lineman was out due to injury, Aldon Smith did not record a single sack.
With both of the Smiths on the field, San Francisco will get after Matt Ryan and limit his impact on the game.
QB Colin Kaepernick
The 49ers offense should be watching film of the Falcons’ two games against the Carolina Panthers this season.
Atlanta nearly lost in the first meeting between the teams, and Cam Newton picked up 86 yards and a touchdown on nine rushing attempts. In the next matchup, Newton had 116 yards and a touchdown on nine carries, and the Panthers took down the Falcons.
Kaepernick proved just how dangerous he can be running the ball against the Green Bay Packers. He led the Niners to a comfortable victory while setting an all-time record for rushing yards by a quarterback in playoff game with 181 rushing yards.
Designed running plays will once again be a large part of San Francisco’s game plan, and Kaepernick will be a significant factor in a 49ers victory.
Crabtree is quickly becoming an elite wide receiver, and his chemistry with Kaepernick has created a productive connection.
Who will win the NFC?
The fourth-year wideout’s numbers have improved each year he has been in the NFL and he had his first 1,000-yard season in 2012. He finished the year with 85 receptions for 1,105 yards and nine touchdowns.
But Crabtree has truly exploded in his past two games. He caught eight passes for 172 yards and two touchdowns in Week 17 against the Arizona Cardinals, then pulled in nine receptions for 119 yards and two more scores to help lead San Francisco past the Packers.
He will continue playing at an extremely high level, and the Atlanta defensive backs will struggle to cover him next weekend.
Final Prediction: San Francisco 31, Atlanta 21