The San Francisco 49ers and Atlanta Falcons are two very different teams, but they have the same goal this week: win the NFC Championship Game and reach the Super Bowl.
This will not be an easy task for either team. The Falcons have won 14 of their 17 games this year and have been dominant at home, while the 49ers are playing as well as anyone in the NFL right now.
However, either side is capable of advancing to the next round. For that to happen, each team will need to follow these keys to victory.
Utilize the Deep Ball
If there is a weakness on the 49ers defense, it is at cornerback. While the group is still above average, it might be the only place to attack this team.
Fortunately, the Falcons have two big, physical receivers that should be able to win any jump ball with these opponents.
Roddy White and Julio Jones were both in the top 10 in the NFL in receptions over 20 yards. Quarterback Matt Ryan needs to take chances by throwing down the field in an effort to move the football.
This strategy worked a few times against the Seattle Seahawks, especially with the 47-yard touchdown pass to White. The Falcons cannot afford to be conservative against this team.
Win the Turnover Battle
While this is a key for every big game, it will be even more important in this matchup.
Atlanta has survived defensively this year based on its ability to force turnovers. With 31 takeaways, the Falcons were able to rank No. 5 in points allowed despite giving up the ninth-most total yards.
On the other hand, the 49ers were tied for second in the NFL with only 16 giveaways this season.
The Falcons have to make sure they get these game-changing plays in any way possible.
In addition, Matt Ryan almost cost his team the game last week with two interceptions. He needs to make sure he takes care of the football against a defense that loves to take it away.
If Atlanta can win the turnover battle, it will have a very good chance of winning the game.
Get Colin Kaepernick on the Move
Colin Kaepernick was simply stunning on Saturday against the Green Bay Packers. He torched the opposing defense on the ground with 181 rushing yards and two touchdowns to go along with his two passing touchdowns.
This has been a valuable weapon that the 49ers did not utilize during the regular season.
In seven starts, Kaepernick has only averaged six rushing attempts per game and never reached double digits. He had 16 against the Packers.
San Francisco has been satisfied with the young quarterback's efficiency as a passer, but the team will only be successful when it uses his best attribute: his legs.
The coaching staff must call designed runs and encourage Kaepernick to scramble often against the Falcons. This will force the defense to pay more attention to him and it will allow receivers to get open down the field.
If they can do this, the offense will be almost impossible to defend.
Shut Down the Run
Normally a matchup between the No. 4 rushing defense against the No. 29 rushing offense would not be cause for concern. However, the teams that have been able to beat the 49ers this year are those that can move the ball on the ground.
Seattle's Marshawn Lynch and Ahmad Bradshaw of the New York Giants were able to rush for over 100 yards on more than 25 carries as they led their teams to victory over San Francisco.
The 49ers were only able to tie the St. Louis Rams at home after Steven Jackson rushed for 101 yards and a touchdown on 29 carries.
While Michael Turner has had a poor season for the Falcons, they still need him to be successful. In all three of the team's losses, the running back was held under 20 yards rushing.
Last week, however, he had one of his best days of the year against the Seahawks with 98 rushing yards. Therefore, Turner is still very much in the team's game plan.
San Francisco must make sure this does not become an issue. Otherwise, the Falcons will control the clock and it will not lead to a good day for the 49ers.
Like the new article format? Send us feedback!