The Superbowl is almost upon us. The venue has been chosen, the date has been set and Beyonce has been selected to dazzle us during the half time interval. The only other thing that remains to be decided is what other performers will be taking centre stage on 3rd January. Will the Patriots reach their second super bowl in succession? Will Ray Lewis crown his outstanding career with the Ravens with a Super Bowl appearance? Before we consider the chances of the AFC’s best, we will first examine their potential Super bowl opponents, the San Francisco 49ers and the Atlanta Falcons.
Although the home team Falcons are number 1 seeds in the NFC, the 49ers still go into this game as substantial favourites. The 49ers have just come off a significant win against the Packers at home and although Aaron Rodgers was at the peak of his considerable powers he was still no match for 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick. The second year quarterback gave us a performance that not only exceeds his already high standards but exceeds anything that quarterbacks have done in post season history. Kaepernick’s 181 rushing yards and frightening playmaking ability will inevitably strike fear into most opposing teams, but the Falcons are also only a week removed from their own remarkable victory.
The Falcons did win under dissimilar circumstances but Matt Ryan finally registered his first playoff win after three previous attempts, and the Falcons despatched a team which not only beat the 49ers a few weeks ago, but pose a similar threat to tonight’s opposition.
The Falcons will therefore be brimming with confidence despite suffering from a late Seahawks surge in last week’s game, but crucially they were ultimately able to keep the Seahawks at bay and win.
For the Falcons it is imperative that if they are to clinch a super bowl berth then they need to stifle 49ers running back Frank Gore. The 49ers are 10-0 in every game that Gore has been the game’s leading rusher and so the Falcons will look to utilise some creative play-calling on defence in order to restrict the 49ers’ effective run game. Over the course of the regular season the Falcons ranked 21st for run defence and gave up an average of 123.2 yards per game, but despite these defensive frailties, the Falcons managed to restrict the dangerous Marshawn Lynch to a meagre 46 yards in last week’s divisional matchup.
A few weeks ago it was largely assumed that if any team is able to eliminate the threat of Frank Gore then they would be nailed on to win the game, however Kaepernick’s exceptional rushing display last week indicates that this won’t necessarily be the case. If the Falcons are to replicate last week’s monumental victory, then they must also nullify the potent rushing threat that is Kaepernick, just as they managed with rookie quarterback Russell Wilson of the Seahawks.
The 49ers have invested heavily in their offensive line in recent years, with first round picks Joe Staley, Mike Iupati and Anthony Davis all going on to start for the 49ers and so the 49ers will have an edge over a much smaller Falcons defensive line. Although many fans do not believe that the Falcons defence will be able to cope with the 49ers offense, other similarly styled defences in the form of the Rams and Seahawks have had success against Kaepernick. The Falcons defence will have to be disciplined and just like the Rams and Seahawks in those previous encounters, their linebackers could be the difference makers. None moreso than another 1st round draft pick Sean Wetherspoon who will be integral to the Falcons’ hopes. The Falcons face the notorious ‘read option’ play twice a year against Cam Newton and the Panthers, and so the Falcons will hope that Kaepernick will try and find success through the air, and implement a zone defence to eliminate the possibility of any big QB runs.
I have mentioned the offensive prowess of the 49ers, but the Falcons also offer one of the most dangerous offenses in the NFL. The 49er safeties Dashon Goldson and Dontae Whitner have been dominant all season long, but they will have their hands full against Julio Jones and Roddy White, again, former 1st round draft picks. I suspect though that the most important battle will be in the middle of the field between veteran Tight End Tony Gonzalez and the 49er linebackers. Quarterback Matt Ryan will look to go deep early to White and Jones, but as the game progresses other players will need to step up to the plate just as Harry Douglas did last week in the Falcons’ game-winning drive. Although Navarro Bowman, Ahmad Brooks and most notably Patrick Willis have once again had a magnificent season, Matt Ryan has had tremendous success against 3-4 defences so far this season and with such athletic receivers at his disposal, I think if Matt Ryan can implement bunch formations, quick slants and double moves, then he will be able to utilise their playmakers to full effect, and this will be critical for the Falcons especially with such an under-performing rushing attack. Kaepernick has undoubtedly surpassed many people’s expectations since he took over from Alex Smith as the starting quarterback, but on the road against an impressive Falcons side I feel that he may just fall short and it will be Matt Ryan joining Beyonce centre stage in just two weeks time.