It’s rare when a team is favored in a conference title game on the road against a No. 1 seed. The San Francisco 49ers opened as 3-point favorites in the minutes after the Atlanta Falcons took back a game they nearly gave away to the Seattle Seahawks. That number was soon bumped to 3.5, and now it’s at 4.5.
A mix of things go into making these lines. My reputation as a prognosticator shows I don’t know all there is to know about lines and wagering (understatement of the decade, that). Still, we can safely assume the 49ers’ numerous statistical advantages, combined with how much better they looked in the Divisional Round than the Falcons, added up to the 49ers giving 4.5 points in the land of unkempt birds.
Ah, but that’s one of two reasons why a Super Bowl berth is nowhere near a lock for San Francisco … the Georgia Dome. The 49ers were 5-3 on the road in 2012, but their losses came at Minnesota, St. Louis and Seattle — three loud venues with artificial playing surfaces.
The 49ers can point to two wins on FieldTurf this season: a 34-0 thrashing of the New York Jets in East Rutherford and a 31-21 win over the Saints at the Superdome. However, since we’re on the subject of “two wins” … there’s another illogical reason why the 49ers could lose in Atlanta.
Everyone who follows the team can recite it by memory: win-win-loss-win-win-loss-win-win-tie-win-win-loss-win-win-loss-win-win. That’s where we stand after San Francisco’s victory against Green Bay — two straight wins and a pattern that needs obliterating.
These two harbingers of doom bring up an assortment of questions.
- Are the 49ers better suited to play on grass?
- Can Colin Kaepernick and the 49ers’ offense handle a 100+ decibel environment while avoiding penalties and bad timeouts?
- Since winning a championship requires winning three games in a row, does the 49ers’ inability to do so this year put them at a disadvantage on Sunday?
- Does any of this mean anything at all?
My answer to the last question: probably not.
If games are won and lost based on historical trends that ignore the matchups that truly matter (49ers offense vs. opponent’s defense, opponent’s offense vs. 49ers defense, etc.), the 49ers had no chance against Green Bay. For instance, the 49ers went into Saturday’s game with a 1-4 record against the Packers in the playoffs. Also, quarterbacks like Colin Kaepernick generally don’t beat quarterbacks like Aaron Rodgers in the postseason, even at home.
There were several rookie quarterbacks in this edition of the NFL’s postseason, and only Kaepernick led his team to victory over a squad with an experienced signal caller. Kaepernick isn’t technically a rookie, but he has less in-game experience than Russell Wilson, Robert Griffin III or Andrew Luck. Rookies tend to let things snowball when the going gets bad. Instead, Kaepernick shrugged off a painful interception early and went on to impress the nation, as well as solidify the notion that the quarterback position and its physical requirements were forever changed in 2012.
The 49ers must find a way to succeed indoors on green plastic strands bathed in recycled tire shavings, while at the same time completing their first three-game winning streak of the season. The Falcons are tasked with defeating a road favorite that enjoys statistical advantages over Atlanta in nearly every category. We’ll go over those decidedly more tangible advantages as the week goes on.