The 49ers bested the Atlanta Falcons four years ago to earn a trip to Super Bowl XLVII. While that loss still stings, the Falcons will have the last laugh on Sunday.
This Sunday’s matchup between the Atlanta Falcons and San Francisco 49ers pits two teams moving in completely opposite directions. However, not too long ago, these two franchises were vying for the same prize — an NFC crown.
Flash forward four years and a lot has changed for both organizations.
Few faces remain from the team that came within 10 yards of the Super Bowl.
The Falcons slipped into mediocrity soon after the 2012 NFC Championship game and a roster overhaul followed. Few faces remain from the team that came within 10 yards of the Super Bowl.
Now in year two of the Dan Quinn era, Atlanta sees the light at the end of the tunnel. Young impact players flock both sides of the ball, leaving the Falcons with a bright future. The 49ers organization cannot say the same. San Francisco is now on their third head coach in as many years, and a fourth may soon be on the horizon.
Unlike the Falcons, the 49ers record has worsened every year since the 2013 season. The Niners enter Sunday with a 1-12 record and the personnel, or lack there of, indicates the team will get worse before it gets better.
San Francisco has little in the way of franchise cornerstones to build on. The nine All-Pros that made up the Niners’ NFC championship roster seems like a distant memory now.
Where the Niners’ have struggled in 2016, the Falcons have excelled.
Matt Ryan elevated his play from 2012 and has the Falcons poised for a playoff run. On the flip side, Colin Kaepernick is a shell of the player that ran roughshod through the 2012 playoffs. Kaepernick has earned more praise for his actions off the field than he has on, and that’s saying something.
From a statistical standpoint, the Falcons’ defense resembles the 2012 unit that gave up a 17 point lead in the NFC Championship game. But talent-wise, they are leaps and bounds a better outfit.
The Falcons replaced the aging John Abraham with a younger version of himself in Vic Beasley. In just his second year, Beasley leads the league with 13.5 sacks and six forced fumbles, thus entering himself in the defensive player of the year conversation. Rookies Deion Jones and Keanu Neal have also positioned themselves to win end of season awards with their stellar play.
What was once its biggest strength is now the 49ers biggest weakness. Four years ago, San Francisco brought the league’s second stingiest defense into the Georgia Dome. On Sunday, Chip Kelly will dish out the most forgiving defense to Matt Ryan and the number one scoring offense.
Needless to say, this week’s result is inevitable. The Falcons will continue to soar to the playoffs, while the 49ers sink closer to the NFL basement.