12-4-1 San Francisco 49ers at 14-3 Atlanta Falcons
3:00 p.m. ET, Sunday January 20 on FOX
Pre-game coverage starts at 1:00
Announcers: Joe Buck and Troy Aikman
Sideline Eye Candy: Pam Oliver and Erin Andrews
Radio: Dave Sims, James Lofton, Tony Boselli
Line: Opened with 49ers favored by 2½; went up as high as 5; now at 4 to 4½ points
Total: Opened at 48; up to 48½ most places, as high as 49


What To Watch For

John Abraham’s ankle
Once Abraham was sidelined last week against Seattle, the Falcons placed no pressure on Russell Wilson. If Abraham is out (or ineffective), then Atlanta needs to get creative to find a way to pressure Colin Kaepernick. Look for the Falcons to utilize some stunts and to overload on one lineman, such as RT Anthony Davis.

Running lanes for Colin Kaepernick
Dom Capers erred in whatever his plan was to contain Kaepernick last week; I felt the Packers should have had a spy on the 49ers quarterback right from the start … or at least at some point during the game, after he burnt them time and again running the ball for 181 yards. What is Atlanta’s plan to contain him? To me they should use Kroy Biermann as a spy on Kaepernick. That leads into the next question:

What is San Francisco’s offensive game plan?
In week 16 and 17 the 49ers barely used the pistol at all; then they used it for about half their snaps against Green Bay. The decision worked to perfection, because the Packers did not seem to be prepared for what they were facing. Can Atlanta adapt and be prepared for whatever they see, from snap to snap and drive to drive? Perhaps more importantly, can the Falcons front seven avoid being manhandled by a very good 49ers offensive line – regardless of what SF does? Although the Falcons did well against the Redskins when they faced RGIII and Alfred Morris, they were unable to stop Cam Newton in either of their games against Carolina.

49ers Running Game versus Falcons Run Defense
Besides the quality SF offensive line, the 49ers have two good tight ends, a fullback, and thunder and lightning complimentary running backs. Atlanta has a good line, athletic and strong linebackers, and physical safeties. If the 49ers just run Frank Gore up the middle they may be surprised at their lack of success; the Falcons need to also be ready for mis-direction plays, trap plays and power sweeps.

Falcons Running Game versus 49ers Run Defense
Atlanta was able to run the ball against the vaunted Seattle run defense, and Green Bay – with their abysmal running game – was able to rush for 104 yards on just 16 carries last week against the 49ers. While there has been plenty of talk this week about John Abraham, don’t forget that Justin Smith is less than 100% with a triceps injury. As he goes, so goes the entire 49ers defensive line; that is something that the Falcons may be able to exploit.

49ers Pass Defense versus Matt Ryan
Although the Packers were able to score some points, the 49ers defense was successful in confusing Aaron Rodgers; can they do the same against Ryan, now that he and his coaches has had time to see what San Francisco was doing? Conventional wisdom was that the Seattle corners would knock Roddy White and Julio Jones off their routes with their physical play, but that did not happen. The 49er corners – Tarrell Brown, Carlos Rogers, Chris Culliver – are not as good as Sherman and Browner. If Ryan can plant his feet and get a good throwing lane, then he will have more success than he did last week; SF needs to rely on their pass rush getting to Ryan. While much has been made of the effect of John Abraham’s injury to the Atlanta defense, not much has been said about the effect of Justin Smith’s injury to the San Francisco defense. The negative effect has been very comparable; the 49er defense has not been the same since Smith injured his triceps against the Patriots.

49ers Pass Offense versus Falcons Pass Defense
Atlanta cannot get lulled into paying too much attention to the running game. If they bring the corners up in press coverage they could easily get burnt by Michael Crabtree and Randy Moss. The 49ers would be wise to put their receivers in motion, or on one side of the field in order to clear space. Mike Nolan should (and certainly will) attempt to disguise coverage and blitzes against the first-year starter Kaepernick.

49ers x-factor: TE Vernon Davis
Davis had one critical reception last week, but for the most part he has been a blocker rather than a receiver since Kaepernick took over from Alex Smith. The Falcons have done a very good job against opponent’s wide receivers this year, but are below average against tight ends. Since this is something that Atlanta will not see in recent film on the Niners, it is something that San Fran could surprise Atlanta with in this game.

Touchdowns, not Field Goals
Atlanta is very good in the red zone, both offensively and defensively; the 49ers on the other hand rank low in the red zone on both sides of the ball. If that trend continues, it obviously works in the Falcons favor.

Dome Sweet Dome
Not much is ever said about it, but the Georgia Dome can get very loud. The only home loss for the Falcons was in a meaningless week 17 game; the 49ers have lost in two domes (Minnesota and St. Louis), plus Seattle (a near-dome).

The Falcons are more consistent
San Francisco has not won more than two games in a row all season, and they are currently on a two-game winning streak. The Falcons lost just three games all year, and one of them was in a meaningless week 17 exhibition when they started Luke ‘Checkdown’ McCown. Can the 49ers handle success, and all the praise that has been heaped upon them by so many of those in the media who are declaring them to be by far the better team?


Prediction: I think people are still underestimating the Falcons, and Atlanta will find a way to make Kaepernick look mortal.
Falcons 27, 49ers 23
Falcons +4½ (two units)
Over 48½



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