49ers vs. Falcons: First look at the NFC Championship Game

Both top seeds moved on in the NFC playoffs this weekend, setting up a matchup between the San Francisco 49ers and the Atlanta Falcons in Atlanta Sunday. Some need-to-know facts:

* Neither team has gotten to the Super Bowl this century. The Niners were last in the game when they beat beat San Diego in Super Bowl XXIX in 1994. The Falcons made their only Super Bowl appearance when they lost to Denver in 1998 (XXXIII).

* The Niners have lost wo conference championship games since their last Super Bowl. The latest came a year ago in an overtime loss to the Giants. The Falcons lost the conference title game to the Eagles in 2004.

* The two teams haven't met since 2010, which renders that matchup pretty much irrelevant in terms of forecasting what might happen this time around. Matt Ryan and Alex Smith had two interceptions each in that game as the Falcons scored 16 unanswered points to win 16-14 after trailing 14-0 in the first quarter.

*The Niners have won four out of their last five, while Atlanta has won six of its last eight. 

* Atlanta slipped up this season against bad teams. Against teams with winning records, the Falcons were a perfect 3-0. Not a huge sample size, but they beat Denver, Washington, the Giants (and now Seattle). The 49ers played a tougher schedule but were just 4-3 against teams that finished above .500. They lost to the Vikings, Giants and Seahawks, but they've also beaten Green Bay twice now and they beat the Patriots, Bears and Seahawks as well.

* The perception is that Atlanta fell off a bit late in the season, but the Falcons are still super-efficient. Since Week 13, their turnover margin is plus-10, which ranks second in the league during that span. San Fran is only plus-2 during that same span. No team turned it over less during the final five weeks of the season than Atlanta did (2). 

* Atlanta's been hurt by a lack of balance. Since Week 10, only two NFL offenses have fewer rushing yards than the Falcons do. They also rank 30th in that span in terms of yards per attempt (3.5). However, Michael Turner and Jacquizz Rodgers had a combined 162 yards on 24 carries against Seattle Sunday. 

* San Francisco has more balance, but the Niners still have the less proven quarterback. Colin Kaepernick ran for 181 yards and two touchdowns against the Packers Saturday night, but if he can't get it going out of the read-option as a runner, he could have his hands full with a tough Atlanta defense. Kaepernick has completed fewer than 58 percent of his passes in four straight games and has never had more than 276 passing yards in a game.  

Where they ranked in the regular season…


About Brad Gagnon

Brad Gagnon has been passionate about both sports and mass media since he was in diapers -- a passion that won't die until he's in them again. Based in Toronto, he's worked as a national NFL blog editor at theScore.com (covering Super Bowls XLIV, XLV and XLVI), a producer and writer at theScore Television Network and a host, reporter and play-by-play voice at Rogers TV. His work has also appeared at Deadspin, FoxSports.com, The Guardian, The Hockey News and elsewhere at Bloguin, but his day gig has him covering all things NFC East for Bleacher Report.