Neither team in the 2013 NFC Championship could be any hotter.
The Atlanta Falcons and San Francisco 49ers both hit speed bumps in the second half of the regular season that had analysts doubting their ability to make noise in the playoffs. After Atlanta’s 30-28 nail-biter against the Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco’s 45-31 victory over the Green Bay Packers, those doubts have been extinguished, as each squad has hit its stride.
Here’s a complete preview of the NFC Championship Game:
Where: Georgia Dome in Atlanta, Georgia
When: Sunday, Jan. 20 at 3 p.m. ET
Betting Line: TBA
What’s At Stake?
A Super Bowl berth.
That’s it, at least for most of the players.
I say that because both teams' most valuable players are in their prime. The loser of this showdown shouldn’t be downright devastated because, in theory, they should be in the playoffs quite a bit over the next few years.
Of course, for guys like 16-year veteran Tony Gonzalez, more than a Super Bowl berth is on the line. Retiring blingless is at stake as well.
49ers Injury Report (As of Jan. 13, via ESPN)
Tarell Brown (shoulder), CB, Probable
Patrick Willis (shoulder), LB, Probable
Justin Smith (triceps), DT, Probable
Falcons Injury Report
An already injured John Abraham was forced to the sideline once again against the Seahawks. The team’s official Twitter account tweeted news of his ailment:
INJURY UPDATE: DE John Abraham has left the game with an ankle injury. His return is questionable. He's replaced by Cliff Matthews.— Atlanta_Falcons (@Atlanta_Falcons) January 13, 2013
Fantasy Start ‘Em, Sit ‘Em and Sleeper
Start: Michael Turner
Turner looked 27 years old again on Sunday, rushing for 98 yards on just 14 carries against the Seahawks’ No. 4 ranked defense in yards surrendered. While the 49ers’ defense is better at stopping the run than Seattle’s, they just allowed the Pack to rush for 6.5 yards a pop on them. Turner will have an opportunity to equal his huge day.
Sit: Frank Gore
Yes, Gore just blew up for 119 rushing yards and a touchdown against the Packers. But the Falcons also just held Marshawn Lynch to 46 yards on 16 carries. It was the first time since Week 10 that Gore had approached the century mark (119 yards) anyway.
Sleeper: Randy Moss
Moss was held to just two receptions for 25 yards against Green Bay. But the Packers’ secondary is far more talented than the Falcons’. Now that he’s an integral part of the 49ers’ offense, he’s always a sleeper to explode.
What They’re Saying
According to Jason Cole of Yahoo! Sports, Green Bay GM Ted Thompson is cuckoo for Kaepernick. He said of the second-year QB’s performance on Saturday:
That was unbelievable. He did everything. I mean, I had read the press clippings and seen some of the highlights. But to watch what he did … oh my, that was special.
The other team’s quarterback didn’t play too badly this weekend either. Mark Schlereth of ESPN tweeted that the man who had previously played like Matty Melt finally earned his nickname:
Happy for Matt Ryan on that final drive. A couple of huge throws truly earned that ICE nickname.— mark schlereth (@markschlereth) January 13, 2013
49ers Player to Watch: Colin Kaepernick
With Robert Griffin III now watching the playoffs from his couch, Kaepernick has become the most entertaining player in the league remaining in the tournament. He racked up 444 yards from scrimmage and four touchdowns (two rushing) against the Packers, including an NFL playoff-record 181 rushing yards.
Russell Wilson was able to do some damage with his legs against Atlanta, leading the team in rushing with 60 yards and a touchdown on just seven carries.
Kaepernick should go off again.
Falcons Player to Watch: Matt Ryan
Take away Ryan’s two interceptions and he couldn’t have played much better against the Seahawks.
He completed 24-of-35 passes for 250 yards and three touchdowns and drove the team to a game-winning field goal. However, his pair of picks almost cost the Falcons the game. Facing a 49ers’ secondary that played well against Aaron Rodgers, Ryan must eliminate those mistakes to win his second career postseason game.
Key Matchup: Sam Baker vs. Aldon Smith
Sam Baker, Ryan’s blindside blocker, has to keep Smith off of his quarterback.
The freak athlete rush linebacker recorded 19.5 sacks in the regular season, and while he didn’t take down Aaron Rodgers on Saturday, he did manage to force a fumble and get one hit on Rodgers. Baker and the Falcons’ offensive line didn’t allow a single Seattle sack on Sunday, so they’re as ready as they’ll ever be for the fierce 49ers attack.
While Atlanta was able to fend off Seattle, San Francisco completely imposed its will on Green Bay. The 49ers gained 579 net yards compared to 352 by the Packers and controlled the clock with 38:01 time of possession. Though the 49ers will be playing on the road, they are simply the more dominant team right now.
The Falcons will keep it close, but ultimately Kaepernick will give his club the edge.
San Francisco by 3
David Daniels is a featured columnist at Bleacher Report and a syndicated writer.