Keys to the NFC Championship Game

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EA Sargent Sports is the units leader in NFL Playoffs at the Sports-Watch monitor heading into the NFC Championship game. Next in line is Handicapper Sports who is a perfect 3-0, followed by Indian Cowboy and Robert Ferringo of Doc’s Sports. In a three-way tie for fifth place are JB Sports, Special K Sports and the Z-Play.

The Atlanta Falcons are the biggest No.1 seed underdog we could find in a championship game at +4.5 points (down from 5). For Atlanta to upset the favored 49ers at the Georgia Dome, this is what they must do.

San Francisco is generally considered the most physical team in the NFL, which alone makes them difficult to prepare for. This is sort of like a finesse fighter taking on a skilled brawler, you have to bring a certain mindset and if you start being pushed around, it can wear on you mentally.

Atlanta FalconsAtlanta is not going to do a lot of damage against the Niners No. 4 rush defense, but they cannot abandon the run either. Because Matt Ryan has become quite skilled in running the no-huddle, the Falcons would be wise to stay in this offense all day. The reasons are varied, thus, let’s keep it simple.

The no-huddle is a very good offense to run the ball in the 11-package (1-TE and 1-RB), because it allows the running back to pick his lane when the opposing team is in the nickel package. Michael Turner showed fresher legs last week and the use of Jacquizz Rodgers could be very important in this conflict.

No team remaining has three skilled wide receivers like Atlanta and by staying in the no-huddle, Ryan can find mismatches in single coverage even when San Fran stays in the Cover 2 shell. Though the 49ers beat New England last month, they allowed 515 yards and the defense was on the field for 89 plays. Since Jim Harbaugh’s defense has little quality depth, Atlanta can win this contest in the fourth quarter by being unrelenting and executing properly.

Defensively, the Birds are going to give yards, but rely on the same formula that has gotten them to this point, keep the opposition out of the end zone. Atlanta was the best team in football in yards per points allowed and has to be stout on third down defense. San Francisco spread option is going to be an issue, but how you slow down or defeat it is by early penetration in the A-Gaps and hitting the quarterback repeatedly, making him want to hand off.

San Francisco has the type of offense and defense to take the crowd out the game and they will look to establish their will quickly. Harbaugh may be an abrasive personality, but he likes smash-mouth football. His offensive line can dominate the Falcons at the point of attack and move the chains and keep the pigskin out of Matt Ryan’s hands.

San Francisco 49ersAs it turns out, Harbaugh’s switch to Colin Kaepernick was calculated and the addition of the read-option brought an explosive element to the 49ers offense with their quarterback’s multi-yard jaunts. One overlooked factor on Kaepernick getting to the edge is the exceptional downfield blocking by the Niners wide receivers. Look for Harbaugh to add a few wrinkles to the running game.

Michael Crabtree has emerged as the favorite target of the new signal caller, both in intermediate and deep routes. After largely ignoring Vernon Davis, Kaepernick made a concerted effort to target the tight end last week and if the connection clicks better this week, the offense is that much stronger.

San Francisco defense is uncomplicated, with strong front seven to stop the run and seldom blitzing and dropping seven against the pass while still getting pressure on the opposing quarterback. No matter what kind of offense Atlanta uses, if the 49ers force a three and out per quarter, they should win and cover the spread.

Our Sports-Watch Power Ratings have San Francisco as a one-point favorite.

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