The San Francisco 49ers will take on the Atlanta Falcons on Championship Sunday in the the NFC Championship showdown. This is set to be a huge clash with two of the most consistent teams in the NFL this year, but today something will have to give.
Most analysts have the 49ers down as the favorites for this one, but the Falcons have been written off for most of the season by critics who expected them to fall away when the going got tough. However, they are now just one game from the Super Bowl, and will be eager to prove their critics wrong again.
The game stars at 3 p.m. ET and can be watched online through free live stream (details below).
The 49ers were hugely impressive last week, taking apart the Green Bay Packers 45-31 to lay down their credentials for the NFL Championship crown and the Super Bowl. Colin Kaepernick had a huge game against the Packers, and already his performance is being spoken about as one of the great postseason performances of all time.
Many have said the Packers simply were not prepared for Kaepernick and did not know how to handle him. The 49ers player set an NFL quarterback record by recording 181 rushing yards against the Packers, effectively ripping apart their defense at the seams.
In the run up to this weekend's game, some have questioned whether the Falcons' defense, which was ranked just 24th in the league, would be able to cope with the young speedy quarterback.
However, the Falcons have confidently mocked any suggestions they will succumb in the same way as the Packers. "Love hearing we can't stop Kaepernick," linebacker Sean Weatherspoon told San Francisco Chronicle reporter Vic Tafur. "We want the challenge and look forward to it. It will be fun."
With the 49ers being one of the most roundly-solid units in the NFL it is hard to find a chink in their armor. However, the Falcons will no doubt have noticed that a number of times this season the 49ers have leaked an excessive number of yards on the rush.
The Seattle Seahawks were able to post 176 rush yards against San Francisco in Week 16, and the New York Giants, St Louis Rams and Minnesota Vikings all managed to pass 145 rush yards against them.
Even though the Packers were soundly beaten last week they still managed to post 104 rush yards from just 16 attempts. Not the end of the world, some 49ers fans might suggest, but that glimmer of a potential weakness could be enough to inspire the Falcons to expose that area more and take advantage.
However, it doesn't help that the Falcons have been poor on the rush all season, posting an average of just 87.3 yards per game, ranking 29th in the NFL. But then again, last week against the Seahawks they ran well early on and ran often throughout the game. If the Falcons' offense and running backs can run hard and be tougher than the 49ers defense, then they could expose an achilles heel in the 49ers.
The Falcons had lost just one game prior to December in the regular season, before suffering two surprising losses against Carolina and Tampa Bay. However, they upped the intensity again last week against the Seahawks and won through by the skin of their teeth in a 30-28 victory.
Things will not be any easier this week, and many pundits have the 49ers down for the Super Bowl this year. But the Falcons have had a fantastic year and have repeatedly confounded their critics.
If they can take down the 49ers today then maybe the doubters will finally stand up and take notice that Atlanta are the real deal this year.
San Francisco 49ers vs Atlanta Falcons in the NFC Championship game is scheduled to start at 3 p.m. ET and can be watched online through free live stream by clicking here.
Here is a video preview of the 49ers vs Falcons on Championship Sunday: