The San Francisco 49ers are road favorites in the NFC Conference Championship game, despite a pair of compelling trends that seem to suggest the Atlanta Falcons will win Sunday.
Atlanta, which opened as a 3.5-point home underdog which was bet up to 4.5 points as of midweek according to OddsShark.com, has beaten the 49ers four straight. And they have won eight straight games against NFC West foes, including last week's thriller over Seattle.
This Sunday, these former division rivals renew acquaintances on a big stage when they meet in the NFC Championship game (3 pm ET, Fox) at the Georgia Dome.
And the 49ers, despite being a favorite, are still facing the NFC's top seed and are still facing a situation where they have struggled in recent years—on the road against NFC South teams.
"The 49ers are just 2-7 in this situation since 2004, according to the NFL odds database," said Jack Randall, a football handicapping analyst at OddsShark.com.
While many bettors are backing the 49ers on the point spread, they also seem to be betting on a high-scoring game. The total opened at 48 at most sports books in Las Vegas and around the online world, and had since been bumped to 49.5 in some places.
NFC South champion Atlanta got to this conference title bout by winning a wild divisional playoff game last weekend, beating the Seahawks 30-28. The Falcons, as three-point home favorites, shocked most observers by building a 20-0 halftime lead, thanks in part to some lousy red-zone execution by the Seahawks.
But in the second half, Atlanta allowed Seattle—led by scrambling QB Russell Wilson—to rally all the way back to take a 28-27 lead with under a minute to go.
Falcons QB Matt Ryan then threw two passes to move his team from its own 28-yard line to the Seahawks' 31, and K Matt Bryant kicked a game-winning field goal from 49 yards out.
Statistically speaking, Atlanta ranked 29th in the league in rushing this season, averaging just 87 YPG on the ground. But last week, against a supposedly stout Seattle defense, the Falcons rumbled for a season-high 167 yards.
Atlanta will try to do a little of the same Sunday against San Francisco's nasty defense.
The Niners got to this Conference Championship game by exploding on Green Bay last Saturday for a 45-31 divisional-round victory.
QB Colin Kaepernick made Coach Jim Harbaugh look like a genius by putting on one of the greatest individual playoff performances of all time, throwing for 263 yards and two scores and running for 181 yards and two more scores.
The Niners totally outplayed Green Bay last weekend, but that game tied at 24 midway through the third quarter before San Fran scored three unanswered touchdowns to put the Pack away.
The last time Atlanta got this far in the playoffs, it lost the 2004 NFC championship game at Philadelphia 27-10.
After an eight-season playoff drought San Francisco is playing in the NFC championship game for the second year in a row. Last January, as we all recall, the Niners owned a late lead against the Giants at Candlestick Park, but a turnover on a punt led to a New York touchdown.
Then in overtime another fumbled punt set the Giants up for the game-winning field goal, as San Fran fell 20-17.
For what it's worth, one scores prediction computer has this game as a very tight 29.4 to 29.2 result for the 49ers. And all four games went over the total last weekend, perhaps enticing oddsmakers to set over-under values a bit higher than normal this week.