The San Francisco 49ers and the Atlanta Falcons are the two best teams in the NFC on paper, and through plenty of work and a little bit of luck, these juggernauts are fighting for conference supremacy.
With two hard-hitting defenses and big-play offenses on either side, this game has all the earmarks of turning into one of the most memorable matchups of the 2013 NFL postseason.
For Matt Ryan and the Falcons, the team is trying to ride the momentum of the young QB’s first playoff win into this week’s conference championship. Colin Kaepernick and the 49ers are trying to build off one of the most impressive offensive showings in postseason history.
Both teams are playing very well right now, but only one franchise gets the honor of being the NFC representative to the Super Bowl.
This will be an intense battle that most NFL fans will never be able to forget.
Where: Georgia Dome in Atlanta, Ga.
When: Sunday, Jan. 20 at 3 p.m. ET
Live Stream: NFL Audio Pass
Listen: KNBR 680 AM (San Francisco) or WQXI 790 AM (Atlanta)
Spread: 49ers -4 (via Vegas Insider)
San Francisco’s Keys to Victory
While the San Francisco 49ers will rightfully get credit for the team’s talented defensive unit—fourth in the NFL against both the run and the pass—it will be how the offense performs that determines whether or not the 49ers makes it to the Super Bowl.
That starts and ends with second-year quarterback Colin Kaepernick.
There is no questioning that Kaepernick isn’t the battle-tested veteran the team would like to have under center, but the young man has been playing out of his mind.
With 263 yards passing, 181 yards rushing and four touchdowns against the Green Bay Packers in the divisional round, the 49ers will need the young dual-threat QB to be as dynamic as he was last week if the team wants to secure a trip to New Orleans.
Atlanta’s Keys to Victory
While the home-field advantage may not seem like much of boost at this point in the postseason to many fans, the Atlanta Falcons have been notorious for playing much better on the team’s own grass.
Lucky for Atlanta, the NFC Championship game is being played in the Georgia Dome.
Led by young quarterback Matt Ryan—who finally achieved his first playoff win last week by holding off the Seattle Seahawks—and the dynamic pass catchers around him like Roddy White, Julio Jones and Tony Gonzalez, the Falcons will put up yardage in big chunks Sunday.
San Francisco’s secondary has been put on notice.
Prediction: San Francisco 27, Atlanta 24
As tough as the Atlanta Falcons have played all season—the top team in the NFC for most of the 2012 regular season—it will be the more-talented San Francisco 49ers that walk away with the conference championship.
Led by the unpredictable play of Kaepernick, the 49ers will be able to keep the chains moving and tire out the Falcons' defense. Add in the San Francisco defense forcing Matt Ryan and Atlanta off the field with three-and-outs, and this game will be more one-sided than the score reflects.
This is going to be a close battle that keeps the fans of both cities—as well as the millions of neutral spectators that just love the sport—on the edge of their seat throughout the game.
San Francisco will walk away with a late win.