A shot at the Super Bowl is on line Sunday as the Atlanta Falcons host the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship Game at the Georgia Dome.
The Falcons coasted through most of their schedule for a 13-3 record and gained home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, but are still five point underdogs.
Quarterback Matt Ryan won the first playoff game of his career last week, after guiding a three-play 41-yard drive that led to Matt Bryant’s last -second field-goal win over the Seattle Seahawks.
The Falcons defense surrendered 21 fourth-quarter points, and nearly gave the game away to Seattle until Ryan’s heroics.
It was an uncharacteristic turn for an Atlanta defense that was seventh in the NFL in points allowed per game. The Falcons defense could struggle again with defensive end John Abraham fighting through an ankle injury and defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux banged up with a bad shoulder. Both were listed as questionable for Sunday.
Each team is searching for a Super Bowl berth that has eluded them for quite some time. Atlanta last went to the title game in 1999, while the 49ers haven’t battled for the championship since 1995.
Quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who took over as the full-time starter in Week 10, put San Francisco on his back after a blistering 444 total yards in a 45-31 win over the Green Bay Packers last week. In his second season out of Nevada, Kaepernick rushed for a record 181 yards, the most for a quarterback in a single game.
49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh has now reached his second straight NFC title game in his first two seasons, and much of that success is due to his team’s preparation on the road. Under Harbaugh, San Francisco is 11-5 on the road overall.
Another win could prove trying for the 49ers, which have some key injuries at linebacker. Aldon Smith, Justin Smith, Patrick Willis, and NaVarro Bowman will play through injury and may have trouble getting to Ryan.
The game kicks-off at 3 p.m. ET and will be broadcast by FOX.
Betting Odds: San Francisco is favored by 5 points
Over/Under: 49.5 points
Prediction: Kaepernick and San Francisco are on a roll, and despite Atlanta’s major improvement on defense this season, the 49ers should continue their march to the Super Bowl with running back Frank Gore leading the way.
Predicted Score: San Francisco 33, Atlanta 24