The 49ers are the people’s choice going into Sunday’s NFC Championship Game. As of Thursday morning, they went from 3½- to 5-point favorites in some places, a remarkable spread, considering that the home field is usually figured to be a 3-4 point advantage.
Oddsmakers do not make predictions. They set a line to try to get an even distribution of betting on each team, so this line means the 49ers have nation-wide support.
There are several good reasons for that, among them the fact that the 49ers dominated the Green Bay Packers in the divisional playoff while the Falcons beat the Seattle Seahawks only because Seattle coach Pete Carroll went brain dead, passing up field goal opportunities early and then giving Atlanta kicker Matt Bryant two chances at the winning field goal by being late with his time out call on the first kick. Bryant missed that one, but adjusted to bang the winning field goal home.
The only reason to like the Falcons in this one is that they have won three games with drives in the last two minutes; the 49ers have no wins like that. But the first two of the Falcons’ game-winning drives came against the Carolina Panthers and Raiders, so perhaps they shouldn’t be counted.
The main reason to think the 49ers will win is their balance, good on both sides of the ball. Atlanta’s Matt Ryan is very good, a classic quarterback who has been successful from his first season in the NFL. The Falcons had only 31 seconds to drive down the field to get into position for that winning field goal against Seattle, but Ryan’s passes got the job done against a very good Seattle defense.
The 49ers also have a very good defense, especially since Justin Smith’s injured arm held up against the Packers. With Smith in the game, the 49ers are able to stop the opposition’s running attack with just the interior linemen, leaving seven or eight other possible defenders against Ryan’s passing. And the Niners defensive backs have a propensity for interceptions or forcing fumbles after a ball is caught.
Offensively, the 49ers have been a different team with Colin Kaepernick at quarterback, running the “read option.” Only a handful of other NFL teams use that, including Seattle, with rookie quarterback Russell Wilson. Perhaps by next season, NFL defensive coordinators will have an answer for it, after studying multiple game tapes, but Green Bay did not and I doubt that Mike Nolan, the former 49ers coach who is now the Atlanta defensive coordinator, will have one for Sunday’s game, either.
One of the main strengths of this 49ers team is their coaching staff. The job Jim Harbaugh has done is obvious but his assistants — Greg Roman on offense, Vic Fangio on defense — have been equally important.
Roman has done a great job of incorporating Kaepernick’s special skills into an offense that is much different than last year’s, with Alex Smith at quarterback. For a time, it seemed that Frank Gore was overlooked but he had a big game against the Packers. Fangio has been equally creative with his defense.
All the signs point to another impressive 49ers win. Next stop, New Orleans.
Glenn Dickey has been covering Bay Area sports since 1963 and also writes on www.GlennDickey.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.