Case Western Reserve University's independent student news source

The Observer

Case Western Reserve University's independent student news source

The Observer

Case Western Reserve University's independent student news source

The Observer

Sign up for our weekly newsletter!

NFC Championship Game: San Fransico 49ers at Atlanta Falcons

How They Got Here:
Regular Season Record: 13-3
AFC Divisional Round: Defeated Seattle Seahawks, 30-28

Offense: Matt Ryan finally won a playoff game even though it didn’t come as pretty as he had expected. The nail-biter victory over the Seahawks won’t completely erase his history of struggles when the spotlights are on. The Falcons also lack a good running game (ranked 29th in rushing with 87.3 yards per game). The Falcons will be relying heavily on their passing games. In Julio Jones, they have a Pro Bowler, and Roddy White has posted six straight seasons of at least 1100 receiving yards. These two, combined with tight end Tony Gonzalez, give the Falcons an impressive passing game that will be hard to stop.

Defense: With defensive end John Abraham, the Falcons are a top-10 defensive team in 2012. Without him, the Falcons struggled to slow down the Seahawks and had trouble generating pass rushing. Linebacker Stephen Nicholas tallied a career-high 97 tackles in 2012, but the Falcons need linebacker Sean Weatherspoon and middle linebacker Akeem Dent to step up against the 49ers. On secondary, the Falcons did loose cornerback Brent Grimes, but trio of defensive backs, Dunta Robinson, William Moore, and Thomas DeCoud, has helped ease the transition.

Special Team: One word to describe Matt Bryant’s performance against the Seahawks: clutch. Kicker Bryant showed against Seattle that he could hit a long field goal under pressure. Also kick returner Jacquizz Rodgers is capable of breaking out for a large gain anytime. Even with a great special team, the Falcons will look to avoid another heart-pumping close-call game against the 49ers.

Three Players to Watch For:
Matt Ryan, Quarterback – Ryan set career highs in almost all statistical categories this season, and for the fifth year quarterback, he finally won a playoff game. Despite how close the game got, Ryan still threw for 250 yards, had three touchdowns, and led a game-winning drive. With Roddy White, Julio Jones, and Tony Gonzalez, Ryan has a set of reliable targets that could be hard to stop. However, it still comes down to Ryan’s performance. Prior to the win against the Seahawks, Ryan has lost his first three playoff games, with a combined score of 102 to 47.

Roddy White, Wide Receiver – White has established himself as a reliable target for quarterback Matt Ryan. He led all Falcon receivers with 76 yards and a touchdown during last Sunday’s game. White’s ability to make tough, clutch plays has helped Atlanta win some close games. He can separate from defenders and, especially at home, he’s capable of going head-to-head against some of the league’s best secondaries. The highlight against the Seahawks on Sunday was a 47-yard touchdown for White. After a hail-Mary like throw from Ryan, White caught the pass and cradled it into the end zone.

Sean Weatherspoon, Linebacker – How do you contain the explosiveness of Seattle Seahawks’ Marshawn Lynch? Put Sean Weatherspoon on him. Weatherspoon was almost the main reason that the Falcons were able to shut down Lynch and much of the Seahawks’ running game. Weatherspoon had eight tackles and also forced a fumble. He will have a challenging task of containing Frank Gore this coming Sunday.

San Francisco 49ers (NFC West Champion)

How They Got Here:
Regular Season Record: 11-4-1
AFC Divisional Round: Defeated Green Bay Packers, 45-31

Offense: Kaepernick came prepared to his playoff debut party. Last season he was on the sideline holding onto a clipboard, but against Green Bay, he broke an NFL record for rushing yards by a quarterback. At running back, the 49ers have Frank Gore. Gore is as consistent as they come – in the last seven seasons, he has topped 1000 rushing yards at least six times. Like a freight train coming towards you, the Falcons will need to be able to contain Gore or else he will run all over the defense. On receiving end, outside of Michael Crabtree, the 49ers receiving unit is struggling. Tight end Vernon Davis has all but disappeared, and wide receiver Randy Moss is no longer the elite receiver he once was.

Defense: The 49ers defensive line is more about holding back the point of attack and overwhelmed the offense with the linebackers. Pro Bowler defensive end Justin Smith is still questionable, as his injury hasn’t fully healed. San Francisco’s four linebackers (Aldon Smith, NaVorro Bowman, Patrick Willis, and Ahmad Brooks) are all Pro Bowlers. The secondary is led by veterans like Dashon Goldson and Donte Whitner. The 49ers have a capable group to shut down the Falcons.

Special Team: Return specialist Ted Ginn Jr. is capable of returning a kickoff and a punt for a touchdown in the same game. Punter Andy Lee has been reliable as usual, averaging 45.9 yards per punt. The biggest question is kicker David Akers, who has his share of struggles and inconsistency this season.

Three Players to Watch For:
Colin Kaepernick, Quarterback – In his first ever playoff game, Kaepernick performed way beyond expectations. His 181 rushing yards by a quarterback broke a postseason NFL record. The second year quarterback had 400 yards of total offense, including two passing and two rushing touchdowns as he led the 49ers to a convincing victory against Aaron Rodgers and the Packers. If the Divisional Round was any indicator of Kaepernick’s performance, this offense, armed with Frank Gore and Michael Crabtree, is an unstoppable force. Victory against the Falcons may finally label Kaepernick as the 49ers franchise quarterback.

Michael Crabtree, Wide Receiver – Crabtree has been the most consistent player on the entire 49er’s offense. The former 10th overall pick had good chemistry with quarterback Alex Smith, but has blossomed into the number one target for quarterback Kaepernick. Against Green Bay, Crabtree had nine catches to go with his 119 yards and two touchdowns. This is the first season that Crabtree had over 1000 receiving yards. Look for Kaepernick to call upon his most reliable receiver when needed and look for Crabtree to deliver another 100 plus receiving yard game.

Tarell Brown, Cornerback – Tarell Brown contained and shut down every Green Bay receiver he was assigned to. He had the team’s only interception, which he returned 39 yards to provide the 49ers with great field position. Brown almost had another interception when he picked off Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers in the end zone, but the turnover was reversed due to a pass interference call. Brown only allowed two catches for 16 yards against Green Bay. The 49ers need him to have another shutdown performance, especially going against one of the best receiving units in Atlanta.

Prediction: 49ers 41 – Falcons 32

Leave a Comment

Comments (0)

In an effort to promote dialogue and the sharing of ideas, The Observer encourages members of the university community to respectfully voice their comments below. Comments that fail to meet the standards of respect and mutual tolerance will be removed as necessary.
All The Observer Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *