After two rounds of postseason play, four teams remain in the hunt for the Lombardi Trophy. On Championship Sunday, two teams will punch a ticket to New Orleans and Super Bowl XLVII. NFL.com has prepared a comprehensive scouting report for each of the surviving squads.
The (relatively) veteran Falcons are the newbies to this dance. The 49ers, Patriots and Ravens all played on Championship Sunday a year ago, while Atlanta sat at home, ruing another wasted regular season of contention.
Player to watch
Best of 49ers vs. FalconsTake a look at the best photos of the 49ers vs. Falcons through the years.
John Abraham, DE: And more specifically, his maybe-gimpy ankle. Abraham is the Falcons' best (and maybe only) sack threat; without him on the field at the end of last week's game, Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson went untouched through 13 pass attempts. The Falcons have to get pressure on Colin Kaepernick. Have to.
Matt Ryan, QB: He finally got his first playoff win and, as he joked last week, won't have to be asked about that anymore. Still, his regular-season feats are no longer enough. If he wants to move into the pantheon of upper-tier quarterbacks, he has to win more in January. He has plenty of offensive firepower, and he's at home.
Matchup to watch
Falcons' offensive line vs. 49ers' defensive line: Don't coaches always say games are won in the trenches? Well, the Seahawks couldn't generate any pressure last week; Ryan, who wasn't sacked once, had oodles of time to throw. The 49ers, with Justin Smith and Aldon Smith, won't be such friendly guests.
Did you know?
Last week's win over the Seahawks gave Matt Ryan 22 fourth-quarter/overtime comeback victories over his first five seasons in the NFL. Ryan also has more game-winning drives (23) than any other quarterback since entering the league in 2008. Including the playoffs, that number is four more than Drew Brees and five more than Peyton Manning. ... Tony Gonzalez leads all active players in receptions (1,242) and is second in receiving touchdowns (103) and receiving yards (14,268). ... The Falcons have scored 30-plus points in three of their past four games. The 49ers, meanwhile, have allowed 30-plus points in three of their last four games. ... Falcons defensive coordinator Mike Nolan was the head coach of the 49ers from 2005 to 2008, posting an 18-37 record (before getting fired seven games into the 2008 campaign).
How the Falcons will win...
If the Falcons can do a better job defending the read option than they have so far (see: Newton, Cam and Wilson, Russell). If Ryan can effectively spread the ball around to Roddy White, Julio Jones, Gonzalez and Harry Douglas, therefore leaving no part of the field unused. If the Falcons can be moved by the possibility of this being Gonzalez's last game, the way the Ravens have been so charged by Ray Lewis' impending retirement.
How the Falcons will lose...
If Kaepernick is the star of the afternoon. The 49ers quarterback showed us something deeper after last week's pick-six: a) He's still prone to young-quarterback mistakes; and b) he doesn't get unnerved by much. The problem for the Falcons is that point b) is the stronger one.
Wilson had all sorts of fun with the Falcons' defense last week. Kaepernick has both a more impressive arm and faster legs. Kaepernick looked to mismatch king Vernon Davis more last week than he has over the course of the past month, and he also has one of the game's hottest receivers in Michael Crabtree. Both Kaepernick and Frank Gore could find running lanes, and the young quarterback could continue to prove why Jim Harbaugh's in-season QB swap actually wasn't such a jarring move.
Follow Aditi Kinkhabwala on Twitter @AKinkhabwala.