The stage is set. Atlanta will take on the #2 seed in the Georgia Dome on Sunday afternoon. The entire world will be watching this game in great anticipation to see who will play on the biggest stage of them all: the Super Bowl. Now that I have stated the obvious, let us move on to some less obvious things.
This stage will not see the record-breaking 111.3 million that watched last season’s Super Bowl, but I think it could get the 57.6 million that the NFC Championship saw last season. Even this past weekend, the Falcons and Seahawks had 32.1 million viewers tuning in. Expecting 60 million viewers is far from ridiculous. The 49ers are one of the most intriguing teams to watch in the NFL. If I was not a Falcons fan, I would still watch to see what Kaepernick can do. The appeal of Jim Harbaugh is also very high. People seem to love Jim as a coach, and they love to watch what he can do. I also love watching him. He is such an intense guy, and a coach I would love to have. Add that to the fact that this may be Tony Gonzalez’s last game, makes the potential audience huge.
On the field, there will be a lot to watch for. The obvious player to watch is a very versatile athlete. He stands at 6’4”, 230 pounds. His is the enemy of the week, and my player to watch.
I would love to say to most intriguing player to watch is a Falcon, but it is not. Kaepernick is a taller and faster Russell Wilson. I do think thatWilsonis a better throwing quarterback, but not as mobile as Kaepernick.
One of the problems that Kaepernick has is that he does not read his second and third progressions. If his first read is not open, he looks to run. This is something that Nolan can take advantage of, or falter from.Green Baygot burned all game by Kaepernick’s random running after his #1 option was not open.
It is hard to tell ifGreen Bay’s defense was just that bad, or Kaepernick was that good. I do thinkGreen Bay’s poor effort defensively helps his stock. Look whatNew OrleansandSeattledid to him. Regardless of what you say, Kaepernick is still that quarterback. (Not to mention, he did not play great againstArizonain Week 17). There is a solution to stopping Colin, and if anyone can expose it, I think it can be Mike Nolan.
I am not trying to take away from the 180+ yards he rushed for a last week, and the total of 400+ yards he had, but he has had games where he did not do so well. There has to be a way to shut down Kaepernick. The only concern is the fact that the Falcons may not have the personnel to be able to stop Kaepernick.
Something that is being underrated about the Falcons is the fact that they have faced all the top running quarterbacks this year. They contained RGIII, but got burned byNewtonandWilson. At some point you would think that Nolan and the Falcons defense could figure out these mobile quarterbacks, but it is no easy task.
The biggest focus for the Falcon’s defense is to put pressure on Kaepernick. I feel confident we can contain Frank Gore. We held an injured Marshawn Lynch to 46 rushing yards on 16 carries! (He was injured, but he was still the best running back left in the playoffs). However, we could not stop Russell Wilson’s passing ability. A huge reason for that is because he sat back in the pocket for hours. He could have read the AJC in its entirety on most of the plays. When they did get pressure on him, all he did was roll out of the pocket, which pulled the linebackers away from coverage, and he would throw to someone wide open in the middle of the field. There has to be a better formula for stopping Kaepernick.
With that being said, I feel as if the Falcons have an advantage in preparation. The Falcons just saw similar quarterback inWilsonlast week, which better prepares them for Kaepernick. They can see the mistakes they made againstWilsonand try to fix them for Kaepernick. I have a feeling that Kaepernick will not be putting up huge numbers like he did last week.
What cannot be underrated is how important stopping Gore is. Frank Gore sets up the play action pass offensively. If we can shut down Gore early, this could potentially restrict the game plan of the 49ers. The run game nowadays is being shadowed by the passing game. I am a believer that the run game sets up the pass game. I do not believe that the pass game can set up the run game.
Stopping Gore is no easy task. I know there are a few things that could giveAtlantaan edge. First of all, he is not young. He stands at the age of 29, with 1,911 attempts in his career. His legs could very well give out at any moment. We saw that with Turner during the season a few times. Another advantage is Gore is not a speed guy. The Falcons are not the fastest defense. I feel more confident that they can plug up holes opposed to catching a guy when he breaks off to the edge.
Offensively, the Falcons face a huge challenge. They face the best defense left. They face a team who thrives at stopping the run. They take on a team who excel on the pass rush. They take on an above average secondary. They take on a one of the best coached defenses. So how could they do anything against what seems like such an unstoppable defense?
They actually saw a better secondary last week againstSeattle. The 49ers don’t have Richard Sherman to take away a receiving option. They don’t have Earl Thomas patrolling the middle. What they do have is the scariest pass rush in the league. Patrick Willis in the middle is one of the scariest things in the NFL. The 49ers will hope to pressure Ryan so much where he puts up poor decisions passing.
The way they open up the middle of field for Tony Gonzalez and Harry Douglas is to throw deep down the field. We know that Koetter is not afraid of any defense deep down field. If there was one team to be afraid of throwing the deep ball it would have been the Seahawks. I have a feeling Koetter will pull out all the stops this weekend. I project multiple shots down the field to Julio Jones. They will need a few big plays if they want to win this game.
Michael Turner actually showing up last week was astonishing. I am not a fan of Turner, as I have expressed many times on this site. If there was a week we need him most, it will be this week. Neither the Ravens nor the Patriots have as good as a defense (or even close for that matter) as the ‘9ers. We just need 90 yards from him this week and maybe a 2 runs of 10 or more. If he can do that, it opens up the play action pass, and much more.
The line on this game is quite honestly ridiculous. The #1 seed is playing at home coming off a win in the NFC Championship game. There is no reason the line should be anywhere near 4.5 points. The line, as it stands now, is Atlanta Falcons +4.5 points. You should figure the Falcons get 3 points just for being at home. If this were atSan Francisco, the line would be aroundAtlanta+13. This shows you how little people truly understand about the game of football. This is not Vegas’ fault that the line is 4.5, it is the people who refuse to wager on the Falcons. I don’t know what these people are afraid of. We have shown that we can win the close game. We have shown we can throw against top defenses. We have shown we can put up as many points as any team in the league. If I was a betting man, I would takeAtlanta+4.5 plainly because the line is too big. These are two playoff caliber teams.
My prediction for this game is simple. I think the Falcons will make a few big plays. I think Turner rushes for about 70 yards. I do not think we can stop Kaepernick. We do not have the personnel to do so. It will be a track meet, but I firmly believe that the 49ers will barely out-will the Falcons. The dome will be crazy.
Falcons- 28, 49ers-30