The Atlanta Falcons survived a thriller against the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday, and their reward is a matchup with the San Francisco 49ers, who just blasted the Green Bay Packers and have arguably the most balanced team left in the NFL playoffs.
Nevertheless, it wouldn't be the NFC championship game if it was an easy matchup for either team.
Let's take a look at the crucial battles that will go a long way in determining who will be partying in New Orleans in a couple of weeks.
Colin Kaepernick vs. Falcons Defense
In case you didn't realize as Colin Kaepernick was shredding the Packers defense to the tune of 263 passing yards, 181 rushing yards and four total touchdowns in a Manziel-ian effort, the 49ers QB is fast.
Like, Robert Griffin III fast. Like, Cam Newton fast. Like, Russell Wilson fast.
Unfortunately for the Falcons, they haven't fared too well against those guys this season:
|Opposing QB||QB Rating||Pass Yards||TD/Int||Rushing Attempts||Rushing Yards|
|Cam Newton (Week 4)||119.3||215||2/0||9||86|
|Robert Griffin III (Week 5)||82.9||91||0/0||1||7|
|Cam Newton (Week 14)||110.1||287||2/0||9||116
|Russell Wilson (Divisional Round)||109.1||385||2/1||7||
That one interception in four games, by the way, is by Julio Jones. Not good.
Unless the Falcons make some major changes in the next week, the red-hot Kaepernick appears to be in line for another monster effort both through the air and via the ground.
Falcons O-Line vs. 49ers Pass Rush
Listen, the 49ers secondary is very good. But so was the Seattle Seahawks', and Julio Jones, Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez combined for 17 catches, 186 yards and two touchdowns on Sunday.
A crucial part in that was the injury to Chris Clemons, whose absence led to Seattle's sheer inability to get any pressure on Matt Ryan. If the often-criticized QB gets time in the pocket, there is simply no slowing his receiving corps down—no matter who's in the secondary.
If the 49ers don't want to get into a shootout, Aldon Smith and company are going to have to do a better job at getting in the backfield. In the past four games, they've registered just four total sacks.
Frank Gore vs. Falcons Front Seven
Of course, another way to keep Matt Ryan and his talented receiving corps off the field is to win the time-of-possession battle.
A good way to accomplish that is to stop having Kaepernick rack up those silly 56-yard touchdown runs and start pounding the ball with Frank Gore.
Who ya got?
It's good in theory (not the Kaepernick part; that was a joke), as the Gore—I accidentally typed "the Gore," but it sounded good, so I kept it—racked up 119 yards on 23 carries last week, but it depends on which Atlanta defense shows up.
Will it be the one that allowed 4.8 yards per carry (fourth-worst in the NFL) during the regular season? Or will it be the one that just held Marshawn Lynch, one of the most talented, ferocious, Skittle-frenzied running backs in the league, to 46 rushing yards on 16 carries?
If it's the latter, it will be an absolute nail-biter in Atlanta. Should it be the former, San Francisco will roll to the Super Bowl.