The last time the San Francisco 49ers took the field in the playoffs they nearly made it to the Super Bowl. They may be the frontrunners in the NFC. Photo by Jeff Lewis
By Jason Lewis
Sentinel Sports Editor
The second round of the playoffs in the NFC is going to produce two great games. The San Francisco 49ers will host the Green Bay Packers and the Atlanta Falcons will host the Seattle Seahawks.
These should be two close games, but the 49ers and Seahawks may end up playing in the NFC Championship game. The 49ers play defense, which wins championships, and the Seahawks, who also play defense, are the one team that nobody wants to play, especially a team with a lot of recent playoff failures, which the Falcons have had.
Under quarterback Matt Ryan, the Falcons are 0-3 in the playoffs, and they were blown out in their last two-playoff appearances. The Falcons have been a great regular season team, just like this year, but when it comes to the post season they just cannot come close to getting it done.
This Seahawks team does not have much playoff experience, but that does not seem to faze them at all. Rookie quarterback Russell Wilson is a pure winner, nobody wants to tackle running back Marshawn Lynch when he goes into “beast mode,” and defensively they were No. 1 in the league is scoring defense, only giving up 15.3 points per game.
The Seahawks have seemed to capture magic in a bottle, and they rode that wave right through the Washington Redskins in the Wildcard game. The Falcons may not know the force that is coming their way, as the Seahawks are a team that seems to have found a belief that they are invincible.
In the other match up, the 49ers and Packers game has the makings of a NFL classic. Last year the problem that the Packers had was that they had one of the worst defenses in the league, and that caught up to them when they lost to the New York Giants in their opening playoff game. But this year the Packers have fixed that side of the ball, as they have had one of the better defenses in the league. Match that up with Pro Bowl quarterback Aaron Rodgers, and this Packers team has the ability to play with anybody.
But there is just something about the brand of football that the 49ers play. They play physical on both sides on the ball, as they look to smash their opponent in the mouth with a tough running game and a stingy defense, and they may have an ‘X’ factor that they did not have last year.
Quarterback Alex Smith was a good game manager for the 49ers, but quarterback Colin Kaepernick can make plays. The safe pick would be to go with the veteran Smith, but the aggressive pick is to go with the younger Kaepernick.
For the season, both Smith and Kaepernick attempted the same amount of passes, 218. Smith completed 70.2 percent of his passes for 1,737 yards, 13 touchdowns and five interceptions. He had a quarterback rating of 104.1. Kaepernick completed 62.4 percent of his passes for 1,814 yards with 10 touchdowns and three interceptions. His quarterback rating was 98.3.
Kaepernick’s running ability sets these two apart. He rushed for 415 yards and five touchdowns. Three of his runs went for over 20 yards, and he had one run of 50 yards. Smith rushed for only 132 yards with no touchdowns and only one run that went for over 20 yards. With Kaepernick, the 49ers can run more plays that has the quarterback on the move.
The 49ers offense was missing a playmaker to go along with their running game, led by running back Frank Gore. Kaepernick gives them that playmaker.
The AFC playoffs look pretty simple. It is set up for a New England Patriots vs. Denver Broncos AFC Championship Game, which also means another match up with an opportunity to go to the Super Bowl between quarterbacks Peyton Manning and Tom Brady.
The Broncos host the Baltimore Ravens, who they blew out a month ago in Baltimore, and the Patriots host the Houston Texans, who they blew out in New England in early December.
The Ravens and Texans both got out to hot starts to the season, but they both struggled at the end. The Ravens lost four out of their final five games, which included the blowout loss to the Broncos, and the Texans lost three out of their final four games, which included the blowout loss to the Patriots.
The Broncos rank in the top five in just about every major statistical category on both offense and defense, and the Patriots are the same machine that they have always been. On paper, the Ravens and Texans do not have much of a chance, but the games do have to be played.