San Francisco 49ers vs. Atlanta Falcosn Point Spread – Pick Against the Spread

San Francisco 49ers (12-4-1 SU, 10-7 ATS) vs. Atlanta Falcons (14-3 SU, 9-7-1 ATS)
2013 NFC Championship Game
Date/Time: Sunday, January 20th, 2013, 3:00 p.m. EST
Where: Georgia Dome, Atlanta, Ga.
TV: FOX
by Badger, Football Handicapper, Predictem.com

Point Spread: SF -4/ATL +4
Over/Under Total: 48.5

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For the second consecutive season the San Francisco 49ers will play in the NFC Championship game, but this year they will have to go on the road to do it when they face the Atlanta Falcons in the Georgia Dome Sunday afternoon on Fox with the winner getting a shot at the National Football League’s ultimate prize, Super Bowl 47.

The 49ers emerged out of the Divisional round of the playoffs as the clear team to beat by virtue of their, 45-31, victory over the Green Bay Packers last Saturday. Young stating quarterback Colin Kaepernick threw an interception that was returned for a touchdown on the 49ers very first series of the game, but that was the last time he and the Niners would look bad as Kaepernick racked up 444 total yards and four touchdowns and San Francisco scored on six of their last eight possessions in the game in the impressive win.

Now the 49ers will face an Atlanta team that won the most exciting game of the NFL’s postseason thus far when they slipped past the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday, 30-28.

After watching the Seahawks take a 28-27 lead with just 31 seconds remaining in the game, Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan moved the team 41 yards in two plays to set up kicker Matt Bryant’s game-winning 49-yard field goal. Not only did Ryan’s last-second heroics help to save the Falcons, who blew a 20-point lead in the second half, but it also got the monkey off the back of Ryan and head coach Mike Smith who both notched their first playoff win and put the Falcons back in the NFC Championship game for the third time in franchise history and first time since the “Dirty Birds” team of 1999.

With San Francisco looking virtually unstoppable and the Falcons getting into the title game by the skin of their teeth, oddsmakers were forced to open Sunday’s NFC Championship game with the 49ers as 3-point favorites on the road. With most of the betting public clearly siding with the 49ers in the early going, the number has gone up to minus -4 or even -4.5 at most online sportsbooks after just a little over 24 hours of the point spread going live up on the board.

The over/under total has also seen its fair share of line movement as well, opening at 47.5 late on Sunday and moving up a full point to 48.5 at most sportsbooks, with a few rising as high as 49.5 before the run on the over was stopped.

The total has gone up quickly in part because Sunday’s NFC title game figures to be a rather offensive one. Both teams combined for nearly 1,000 yards of total offense in the Divisional round (SF - 579, Atl. - 417), both teams combined for huge numbers in the running game (SF 7.5 yards per carry; Atl. 6.4 ypc) and both teams are stacked to the Georgia Dome roof with weapons on offense to make Sunday’s game look like a potential shootout.

But if one team holds an edge on offense it has to be the 49ers, who with Kaepernick behind center, will feature his duel-threat capabilities on offense and make the Falcons defense work extra hard to stop this Sunday. If stopping running back Frank Gore behind the 49ers powerful offensive line wasn’t hard enough already (Gore has 23-for-119, TD vs. GB), as soon as the defense falls asleep on the edge Kaepernick keeps it and has the speed to take huge gouges out of a defense with his legs.

Then when a defense starts creeping an extra safety down into the box to limit the Niners run game, Kaepernick has plenty enough arm to find his favorite target Michael Crabtree on the edge and over the middle behind the linebackers to keep defenses honest and move the 49ers down the field with ease. The Falcons defense did a great job of limiting the damage of Marshawn Lynch and the Seahawks running game last week (46 yards on 16 carries), but they often lost contain on quarterback Russell Wilson (7 carries for 60 yards), which is a problem they must fix this week if they want any chance at stopping Kaepernick and the Niners.

That’s going to put huge pressure on Atlanta defensive ends John Abraham, Jonathan Babineaux and Kory Biermann this week. Abraham reinjured his ankle in the Divisional game too, and is listed as probable for Sunday’s game even though he spent the latter half of the previous game sitting on his helmet on the sidelines.

Atlanta and Ryan received a huge lift from Jacquizz Rodgers in last week’s win over Seattle, as the second-year back offers a great change of pace to starter Michael Turner (14 carries, 98 yards) in the Falcon running game. But with Julio Jones, Roddy White and veteran Tony Gonzales consistently finding holes and seams in the defensive secondary, it’s no secret that the Falcons prefer to attack teams with Ryan throwing the ball as much as possible.

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Green Bay had their best success against the Niners defense early in the game when they were consistent with running the ball, and with 49ers end Justin Smith clearly limited with his triceps injury the San Francisco pass rush was very limited last weekend as well. So look for the Falcons to continue with that theme and pound the ball on early downs to get ahead of the chains, then take shots down the field with Jones, Gonzales and White when the Niners defense is on their heels.

These two NFC teams haven’t met on the field since the 2010 season, in what ended up a 16-14 Falcons win at home in the Georgia Dome in early October. That game was highlighted by a game-changing play by Roddy White, who came back after a Ryan interception to strip Nate Clemons of the ball as Clemons was about to go into the end zone. The Falcons took the turnover back down the field and kicked the game-winning field goal with two seconds left in the contest.

White’s play helped the Falcons beat the 49ers for the fourth time in a row (4-0 SU since 2004), as Atlanta has enjoyed a 6-4 SU record over San Francisco over the years including a 4-1 Su mark at home in the Dome.

The betting trends are mixed, but it should be noted that the underdog is a strong 9-3 ATS in the series between these two teams in the last 12 meetings. However, Atlanta is just 1-4 ATS in their last five home playoff games (0-5 ATS in last five playoff games overall), while San Francisco is 5-2 ATS in their last seven games in January and 4-1 ATS in their last five road games versus a team with a winning record.

Badger’s Pick to Cover the Point Spread: I like the Niners to win by a touchdown or more. Atlanta’s lack of run stopping makes this a really bad matchup for them. Once the defense is forced to respect the run, it’ll open up the pass and this is a big problem for the Dirty Birds. Then factor in the wild card that Kaepernick will tuck it and run, and you’ve got chaos. I’m betting the SF 49ers minus the points.

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