San Francisco 49ers at Atlanta Falcons — Sunday 3:00 PM ET (FOX)
Even some of the ATL’s most dedicated fans are feeling the 49ers.
Yes, that’s Atlanta rapper 2 Chainz in the middle of Candlestick Park last Sunday, reppin’ the red and gold. The picture was taken after he performed “Riot” on top of one of the dugouts before nearly every kickoff in the game.
He tried to save face with these tweets:
Prediction Falcons vs. 49ers , Crabtree and T.Ginn jr. , r my patnas,,but so r Roddy and Julio Them dirty birds gone whoop that head boy..
— Tity Boi (2 Chainz) (@2chainz) January 13, 2013
Dont get it twisted i am still a falcon fan 1st…. Great game tho
— Tity Boi (2 Chainz) (@2chainz) January 13, 2013
…but the damage had already been done. And on Sunday, when Mr. Chainz’ “real” team (the Falcons) takes on his adopted team (the 49ers), there might be more broken hearts in Atlanta than when their native son flew cross-country last weekend to perform in what is now enemy territory.
Because this late in the season, home teams don’t start the week as 3.5-point underdogs then see the line balloon up to 4.5. But that’s where the Falcons find themselves heading into Sunday’s NFC Championship Game. The team that was overlooked and disrespected all year is being overlooked and disrespected again.
After the Falcons nearly epic collapse last week against the Seahawks, maybe they deserve it. Or you can look at it this way: the Falcons just beat a Seattle team that manhandled the 49ers on national TV less than a month ago.
We were going to break down Sunday’s game in a traditional way, but we’ll leave it up to 2 Chainz, who did it so well in his debut album.
“And me and you cut from a different fabric.” — I’m Different
Sunday’s signal callers are a big reason why their teams are where they are, but the quarterbacks go about their business in different ways.
You know what you’re going to get with Ryan. He’s going to sit in the pocket and find his top three targets—Roddy White, Julio Jones and Tony Gonzalez—all afternoon. Ryan is also good for at least one devastating interception in a game of this magnitude.
Kaepernick is more of a wild card. He might throw an early pick-six, like he did last week against Green Bay, then come back and light it up the rest of the game, which he also did again the Packers.
But the biggest difference between the two is what each brings to the ground game. Ryan, the pure pocket passer, prefers to get things done in a traditional manner while his counterpart thrives once the play breaks down and he gets to show off his speed. Actually, Kaepernick does pretty well on designed runs too. Last week he set a postseason NFL record for quarterbacks by racking up 181 rushing yards.
Atlanta struggled to contain Seattle’s Russell Wilson on the ground Sunday, and if the defense has a chance to slow down the 49ers offense, it needs to do much better against Kaepernick.
The line applies to the head coaches, too. On one sideline you have the reserved, conservative Mike Smith. Opposite him is Jim Harbaugh, a boisterous risk-taker.
Smith worked his way up the NFL coaching ladder on the defensive side of the ball and has been criticized at times for playing it too safe. Nobody accused Harbaugh of playing things safe as the former NFL quarterback rose through the ranks as a college coach before jumping to the league in 2011.
“It’s my time to get it, it’s my time to shine. / I need a hustlin’ trophy, it’s my time to grind.” — Money Machine
Back to Kaepernick.
Remember all the controversy when Harbaugh named Kaepernick the starter over Alex Smith mid-season? Neither do we.
The second-year quarterback showed the pundits why Harbaugh made the right choice—that his athleticism and upside outweighed Smith’s accuracy and consistent play. Kaepernick shook off a few sub-par performances early on, and now the national media can’t get enough of him.
“Different day, different escapades / If they don’t like it, they opinions like Escalades… Everybody got one” — Extremely Blessed
Atlanta’s receiving corps.
Some games, White goes off. Other times it’s Jones or Gonzalez. At least one of these guys has to have a big game for Atlanta to succeed.
And it will be interesting to see who lines up against Gonzalez. The 49ers have a pair of Pro Bowl safeties in Dashon Goldson and Donte Witner, but Pro Bowl inside linebackers Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman have the speed to keep up with the tight end as well.
There’s nothing wrong with riding around (and getting it) in an Escalade, but as far as this 2 Chainz line is concerned, the 49ers are hoping to cause an accident Sunday.
“And I slow it down like I’m on Robitussin… I’m known for crushin, you known for blushin.” — In Town
That’s the 49ers offensive game plan. Not sippin’ lean, but slowing the game down. They want methodical, grind-it-out drives to burn the clock because this offense knows what it’s counterpart is capable of.
Atlanta’s offense was ranked top-10 in total yards and scoring during the regular season, and Ryan is capable of tossing a 50-yard completion to one of his big wide receivers at any point.
If the Falcons can flip this line in their favor, which won’t be easy against the 49ers stout run defense, this game could get very interesting.
“I see you doin your thing, it ain’t got nothin’ on me / So when you lookin’ at me, I give you something to see.” — Money Machine
These offensive lines didn’t care what their opponents tried all season. It’s easy to overlook the o-line, but if you focus on what these units did, it’s impressive.
Ryan attempted the sixth-most passes in 2012, yet 17 quarterbacks were sacked more than him. And that doesn’t include Arizona’s foursome, which were taken down a combined 58 times.
Meanhile San Francisco’s offensive line produced one First-Team All Pro member in left guard Mike Iupati and paved the way for the team to average 5.1 yards per carry.
It’s cliché to say the game is won in the trenches, but if Atlanta can’t protect Ryan or the 49ers can’t open holes for their backs, that could decide the outcome.
“And all I get is cheese, like I’m taking pictures.” — No Lie
Somebody is going to be smiling and posing with the George Halas Trophy on Sunday.
It’s going to be close, but the 49ers are just too physical on both sides of the ball for Atlanta and will come out with the W.
Prediction: 49ers 27 Falcons 24