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Fearless Rick's NFL Conference Picks - Early Games

Rick Gagliano | January 20, 2013

All times Eastern - Click here for late game.

Sunday, January 20

3:00 pm San Francisco 49ers (-3 1/2, 49) at Atlanta Falcons - The NFC entrant into the Super Bowl will be one of the top two seeds from the conference as the Falcons (13-3) hook up with the 49ers (11-4-1) for the right to proceed to the big game.

In a rare occurrence, the 49ers have been installed as favorites, even though the Falcons are at haome and finished the regular season with a better record.

This oddity is due to last week's contests, in which San Francisco tore up the Green bay defense in a 45-31 win which was not even as close as the final score may lead one to believe.

In Atlanta's 30-28 home win over the Seahawks, the Falcons surrendered a 20-0 half time lead and a 27-7 edge after three quarters, with Seattle taking a 28-27 advantage with just 31 seconds left to play, but Atlanta got lucky on a short kickoff by the Seahawks, moved the ball on two plays to set up a game-winning, 49-yard field goal by Matt Bryant with eight seconds left to secure the victory.

It is likely Atlanta's second half performance - allowing three consecutive touchdowns by Seattle in the fourth quarter - that led oddsmakers to put San Francisco and their dynamic young QB, Colin Kaepernick, in the role of favorite.

For his part, Kaepernick exceeded everyone's expectations against the Packers, throwing 31 times with 17 completions for 263 yards and two scores, plus one interception. The speedy QB from Nevada also rushed 16 times for 181 yards and two TDs.

The 49ers struggled to a 24-21 half time lead, but Green bay tied the game with 8:25 left in the third quarter on a Mason Crosby field goal. The 49ers put the game away shortly thereafter, scoring three straight touchdowns to take a commanding 45-24 lead. The Packers scored a meaningless touchdown with just 57 seconds left to play to produce the final score.

Besides the inspired play of Kaepernick, the San Fran defense more than held its own against Aaron Rodgers and the Packer offense, limiting the explosive Packers to 352 total yards while running up 579 of their own.

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San Francisco also helped their own cause by keeping the ball more than eight minutes longer than the Packers, snapping the ball 75 times to just 56 plays for Green Bay, largely thanks to the grinding running of Frank Gore, who carried the ball 23 times for 119 and a score.

In this week's match-up, the key will be how well the 49er secondary can contain the trio of receivers to whom Matt Ryan will be throwing. Roddy White, Julio Jones and Tony Gonzalez can break open games and Ryan, despite some inconsistencies, can deliver the ball to any spot on the field.

Conversely, the Falcons will have to make sure that they aren't gashed by the likes of Vernon Davis, Randy Moss and the most dangerous receiver, Michael Crabtree, all the while keeping tabs on Kaepernick and the ever-present Frank Gore.

It's not surprising that San Francisco is favored here, as they have been regarded as the best team in the division for the better part of the season.

Atlanta has won four straight over San Francisco, dating back to 2004, though none of those games were with Kaepernick at QB.

Look for the 49er defense to turn up the heat on Ryan and force errant throws, while Kaeprnick and the SF offense tear up the yardage. The 49ers have a complete bag of tricks and haven't used most of them yet. Following last week's drama, Atlanta's defense was exposed in the secondary and especially against a mobile quarterback. They also appeared fatigued in the final quarter and that's not going to get it done against the relentless attack of the 49ers.

Prediction: 49ers 38 Falcons 27

All times Eastern - Click here for late game

Copyright 2012, 2013, Rick Gagliano, Downtown Magazine. All rights reserved. Downtown Magazine is located in the Uinted States of America and is not affiliated with the National Football League or the NCAA. For more information, contact us here. Use of this site is for entertainment purposes only.


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