January 20, 2013 in Sports

NFC championship preview: 49ers at Falcons

 
Tags:NFL

Records: San Francisco (12-4-1, 5-3 away), Atlanta (14-3, 8-1 home)

Time: Noon   TV: Fox 28

Line: Falcons by 4; O/U: 49

Briefly: San Francisco and Atlanta both passed significant milestones last Sunday.

The 49ers won a divisional game with Colin Kaepernick at quarterback, getting just as far as the benched Alex Smith got them last season. So now we’ll see if whether the second-year Kaepernick can take the club the next step, getting it to its sixth Super Bowl.

The Falcons, who had been were 0-3 in postseason games under coach Mike Smith, finally picked up their first playoff victory under his tutelage, and now have a chance to prove wrong all their doubters.

Key for the 49ers is the health of Pro Bowl defensive tackle lineman Justin Smith, who played most of the defensive snaps last week despite a brace-protected partially torn triceps.

Smith frequently commands double-teams, which frees Aldon Smith, who has 19 1/2 sacks but has not collected one since Justin Smith was injured in Week 15.

In his return last Sunday, Justin Smith had four tackles and an assist against the Packers. He said his injured arm is in relatively good shape for the Falcons game.

Atlanta started the season 8-0 for the first time in franchise history and finished with a 13-3 record, earning the NFC’s No. 1 seeding.

The Falcons became the ninth team since realignment in 2002 to start a season 8-0. With a victory today over San Francisco, they would become the fifth such team to reach the Super Bowl.

Another view

ESPN’s Trent Dilfer: “Sometimes the most powerful thing in football is confidence, which you can’t quantify. It’s momentum that you can’t quantify. It’s will, competitive will, to make big plays in big moments. There’s no number to support. When I look at the Falcons in that light, I see a lot of that stuff.”

Pick

The Falcons have had problems stopping running quarterbacks this season, so Kaepernick figures to present big problems. San Francisco’s offense ground to a halt in the championship game last season. That won’t happen today. On defense, the 49ers will contain Atlanta’s run better than Seattle did, even with Justin Smith not at 100 percent.

49ers 31, Falcons 24.

Sam Farmer, L.A. Times

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