This year's participants in the NFC Championship game have officially been determined.
Next Sunday, hard-nosed defense will meet up-tempo offense when the San Francisco 49ers travel to Georgia to take on the Atlanta Falcons. In their respective division match-ups, the home teams escaped when the 49ers toppled the Packers and the Falcons defeated the Seahawks.
The 49ers are looking like the scariest team left in the 2012-13 NFL postseason.
The innovative approach on offense, mixed with the smash-mouth, take-no-prisoners take on defense is a winning formula. But perhaps the most captivating storyline has been the emergence of Colin Kaepernick. In eight career starts, including one postseason game, the young gunslinger has out-dualed Drew Brees, Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers.
The second-quarterback is quite the anomaly for opposing defenses, as he is a true-to-life dual-threat. With his ability as a strong-armed pinpoint passer, coupled with his sub-4.5 speed, Kaepernick creates problems. He keeps defenses honest -- they can't stack the box because they have to respect the pass. He makes opposing units defend the whole field.
Behind this massive, yet highly athletic offensive line, the Niners ran wild in the divisional round. Colin Kaepernick (181) and Frank Gore (119) alone ran for 300 yards as San Francisco went on to drop 45 points on Green Bay. Michael Crabtree has also kicked it into 5th gear with Kaepernick behind center; unfortunately, it has come at the cost of Vernon Davis.
The 49ers offense has a great deal of vitality and momentum going forward into the divisional round. And considering who their opponent is, it could not have come at a better time.
The Falcons won their first playoff game Sunday afternoon, and among the notables, it was a first-ever for Matt Ryan and Tony Gonzalez.
The most impressive part of their performance was how they played defensively. The Seahawks were one of more explosive teams heading into the postseason, and they were riding a hot streak. The Russell Wilson-led 'Hawks scored 194 points in their past 5 wins (4 regular season, 1 postseason). But on Sunday, Mike Nolan's defense stoned them early, shutting them out in the first quarter.
Seattle made quite a surge in the second half, but Atlanta never let them take the lead.
Offensively, the Falcons got on the board early and even though it got very close, they never relinquished control of this game. They spread the ball around on offense better than anyone in the league, making them incredibly difficult to defend. And now partnered with a defense that's recently figured out how to stop the run, the Falcons are dangerous.
If Atlanta can limit a similarly threatening quarterback in Colin Kaepernick, they may be able to pull out a win next week and advance to the Super Bowl.
A chance to advance to Super Bowl XLVII...
Atlanta and San Francisco have some history so this one will be interesting. The past two times these two faced one another, the Falcons were highly favored, but barely escaped the 49ers. Under the leadership of Mike Singletary and now Falcons defensive coordinator Mike Nolan, the Niners were dealt heartbreaking losses.
And although this is a new-look 49ers team, many of the players that performed in those losses are still on the roster. This game will be one of two underdogs. Both were doubted going into their first postseason match-ups this year but lived to fight another day.
Moreover, these are two teams that are just recently on the Super Bowl bowl radar again and plan to be for sometime. This should not be the last time these two meet in the postseason this decade.