Well, it is finally here. The game that got away exactly 365 days ago, and stopped the San Francisco 49ers from reaching the Super Bowl. It has been 365 days since that sour defeat to the New York Giants in the NFC Championship game, 365 days of blood, sweat, and tears, to get back to this point and 365 days to now finally redeem themselves.
The time has come for the 49ers to take that next step and enter legendary territory. Everyone from the coaches, players and owner will all enter greatness if they can beat the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday. Jim Harbaugh will be compared to Bill Walsh, Colin Kaepernick to Steve Young and Jed York to Eddie DeBartolo Jr.
It has been 18 years since the 49ers reached the Super Bowl. Yes, hard to believe, considering the Niners are one of the most storied franchises in NFL history, but it is what it is. And the 49ers now find themselves 60 minutes away from their first Super Bowl berth since the 1994-1995 season.
With the NFC Crown on the line, the question remains who will win? The Atlanta Falcons or the San Francisco 49ers? The answer lies in who can control the line of scrimmage. And if I had to bet, I would bet on the 49ers to win.
The 49ers have arguably the best offensive line in the game, including two Pro Bowlers in tackle Joe Staley and guard Mike Iupati. Their ability to dictate the tempo of a game by using multiple formations including the pistol, elephant and read-option, give them the upper hand. The Falcons’ defense, not known for their physical style of play, will need to match the 49ers smash-mouth running game if they hope to win, and unfortunately, they don’t have the personnel to do overcome that tall order.
The Falcons’ defense is ranked 21st against the run during the regular-season, and gave up an average 123 yards on the ground per game. The playoffs are no exception, as the Seattle Seahawks rushed for exactly 123 yards last week. Although they stopped running back Marshawn Lynch, they were unable to contain quarterback Russell Wilson, as he scrambled for 60 yards on 7 carries. On numerous occasions, the Falcons needed to put eight men in the box just to contain Lynch, which opened up passing lanes for Wilson down the field.
If the Falcons hope to win the line of scrimmage, it will have to start with defensive end John Abraham. The NFL’s all-time active sacks leader has been hampered by a bum left ankle all season, and his effectiveness to play on Sunday is doubtful. This bodes well for San Francisco, as their physical nature will slowly wear down the Falcons’ defense in the second half, forcing Atlanta’s hand.
On the defensive side of the ball, the 49ers front-seven is hands down the best in the league. With four Pro-Bowlers to work with, defensive coordinator Vic Fangio has the luxury of devising a near perfect game-plan. Not known for his blitzing schemes, Fangio will most likely run a pass heavy game-plan allowing the linebackers to drop back in coverage, much like he did against the New Orleans Saints earlier in the year.
However, in order for this strategy to work, outside linebacker Aldon Smith and company will need to apply pressure on Falcons’ quarterback Matt Ryan early and often. Look for some early pressure by the 49ers to try and speed-up Ryan’s time clock and force some costly mistakes.
The Falcons’ line may need to “max protect” Ryan as defensive ends Justin Smith and Ray McDonald should be able to push the pocket against over-matched tackles Sam Baker and Tyson Clabo.
In addition, if the 49ers can also stop the run with a light box, look for some forced passes by Ryan into double coverage. And with two starting Pro Bowl safeties in the back end in Dashon Goldson and Donte Whitner, they will most likely come up with some interceptions.
With football being about matchups, I don’t see on paper or on the field how Atlanta can keep up with the 49ers physical style of play. So, the 49ers win convincingly, 34-23.