The Atlanta Falcons (14-3) will host the San Francisco 49ers (12-4-1) in the NFC Championship Game after coming back and beating the Seattle Seahawks (12-6) in a thrilling NFC divisional round clash Sunday in Atlanta.
The NFC's top seeds are scheduled to meet next Sunday afternoon (3:00 p.m. ET) at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.
Below, we run down some of the early expert analysis about a 49ers-Falcons matchup in the NFC championship.
Two Views of Atlanta's Win
From Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News:
Either Atlanta is a basket case after that heart-wringer and has nothing left for the rested 49ers, or this first playoff victory of the Matt Ryan era launches them into a new world of postseason confidence.
There's no doubting that an emotional, roller-coaster win like Atlanta just went through can drain a team physically and mentally. After hearing the last two weeks about the 0-3 playoff record during the Ryan-Smith Era, such a win—especially after getting a big lead and watching it melt away—has to be satisfying.
Now the trick becomes turning that franchise-changing victory into something bigger than just a single playoff win.
But as Kawakami states, getting a win at home should provide some confidence in the Falcons locker room that winning in the playoffs can happen with this group.
I'm not certain that the answer to this question will ultimately decide who wins and loses next Sunday, but it's worth a discussion in the leadup.
The Nolan Connection
Expect to hear plenty of Mike Nolan stories over the next week. The former 49ers head coach is currently the Falcons defensive coordinator.
Here's this introductory tweet from Matt Maiocco of CSN Bay Area:
Nolan spent four years (2005-08) as the head coach in San Francisco, where he went just 18-37 before the 49ers fired him after Week 7 in 2008. He won seven games in 2006 and could never seem to get the Niners over the proverbial hump.
However, Nolan is familiar with a good number of players still in San Francisco. That dynamic, mixed with a bunch of human-interest stories, should make for a week packed full of Nolan-49ers talk.
Hope for the Falcons?
The majority of early analysis is expecting the 49ers to beat the Falcons for the Super Bowl ticket, but there's reason for hope presented by at least one expert.
ESPN's Chris Mortensen tweeted out this little idea on Saturday, before the Falcons even won:
Every game is different but Falcons fans have to be wondering - didn't the Seahawks just beat the 49ers 42-13 in week 16?— Chris Mortensen (@mortreport) January 13, 2013
Games are mostly independent of each other, but the Seahawks' convincing home win over the 49ers just three weeks ago is worth discussing. Isn't there any confidence Atlanta can take away from such a win by a team that it just beat?
Maybe. Maybe not. But expect a number of talking heads to debate that subject this week. Niner fans will kindly point you to clobbering of the Green Bay Packers Saturday as a more indicative performance of their team.
Count One for the 49ers
We know at least one expert will be picking the 49ers to advance to Super Bowl XLVII.
Bleacher Report's own Matt Miller tweeted out that he will be predicting a San Francisco win next Sunday.
Miller has been high on the 49ers all season, so his pick here comes as no surprise. Right or wrong, most prognosticators will likely be following in his footsteps in the coming days.
Vegas Chimes in
The early line renders San Francisco as the road favorite (-3.0). According to Sports Odds History, home underdogs haven't fared well in this this situation since 1985:
SF -3 @ Atl marks the 9th conference championship game since 1985 with a home dog.Home team is 2-6 ATS & SU in those games— SportsOddsHistory (@SOHistory) January 13, 2013
For those unaware of gambling lingo, "ATS" stands for against the spread, while "SU" represents straight up. So, in the last eight conference championship games that featured a home underdog, the home team is both 2-6 against the spread and straight up.
Not good news for Falcons fans.