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Sunday, January 20, 2013

NFC Conference Finals Preview

Wild on Sports
#2 San Francisco 49ers @ #1 Atlanta Falcons
3:00pm  FOX

One of these two teams will finally get the monkey off of their back and prove they have what it takes to make it to the big game. For the other, the questions will continue to circle. Is Matt Ryan the quarterback to get the Falcons over the hump? Did Coach Harbaugh make the right decision giving the keys to the city to a young back-up QB over a proven veteran?

#2 San Francisco 49ers
How they got there: Wild Card - BYE, Divisional Round - Defeated Green Bay 45-31
Key Injuries: The 49ers have a slew of players listed as probably and all will play. Aside from late season scares to TE Vernon Davis and DL Justin Smith, the 49ers have been relatively injury free this season.
Keys to Victory: The #1 key for the 49ers is to stop the passing attack of Matt Ryan and his 3 star targets WR Julio Jones, WR Roddy White and TE Tony Gonzalez. On the offensive side of the ball the pistol offense led by the Colin Kaepernick should pose problems for the Falcons defense whose strength is in the pass defense. This could hint to a quiet day for Michael Crabtree who has dazzled over the past few weeks building a strong relationship with Kaepernick.
Potential 49ers Storylines: Both 49ers and Ravens victories would lead to an all Harbaugh brothers Superbowl, marking the first time in NFL history that brothers have coached or played against eachother in the big game. Last season the 49ers lost on a late muffed punt deep in their own zone. A fair catch, in all likely hood, would have sent them to the Superbowl. The microscope will be on them again should they make another costly error.

#1 Atlanta Falcons
How they got there:  Wild Card - BYE, Divisional Round - Defeated Seattle Seahawks 30-28
Key Injuries:  DE John Abraham (knee) and DT Johnathan Babineaux (shoulder) are both listed as questionable but both will likely play. WR Roddy White who was injured for the final couple of regular season games appears to be back to nearly 100%.
Keys to Victory: The key for Matt Ryan and the offense will be ball security. The San Francisco defense is as good as any in the league and were 9th in the NFL in takeaways. Look for the Falcons to get Tony Gonzalez involved early forcing safety help which should open up one on one coverage on the outside for Jones and/or White. On defense the key will be containing Colin Kaepernick and not letting him beat you with his legs. It they can force the young QB to the air it plays into the defensive strength forcing Kaepernick into potential turnovers.
Potential Falcons Storyline:  This is likely the last hurrah for future Hall-of-Fame TE Tony Gonzalez. Until last weekend he had never won a NFL playoff game in his career. It would be quite a way to go out if he was able do so by going to the Super Bowl. The elephant in the room is the skepticism surrounding QB Matt Ryan who despite terrific regular season numbers, has yet to take the Falcons deep into the playoffs. How will he perform with the pressure squarely on his shoulders?

Click Here for AFC Championship Preview

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