NFC Championship Preview

OUR COMPLETE STAT PREVIEW FOR THE NFC CHAMPIONSHIP: 49ERS/FALCONS

Sunday's San Francisco 49ers/Atlanta Falcons showdown for the NFC Championship has been one of the most talked about matchups in sports betting circles for quite some time. There's an intense debate going on between different handicapping schools of thought.

  • One side says that San Francisco's stats are so dominant, that they are a clear favorite to win comfortably even on the road against the conference's #1 seed.

  • The other side says you can't possibly justify this pointspread, because no Power Ratings system would show San Francisco as a full SEVEN points better than Atlanta on a neutral field no matter how good they are.

The Wise Guys in Las Vegas typically agree on the big games. Here, you're hearing a lot of arguing in the Las Vegas media from both sides of this old school/new school debate. Let's run through the indicators that have served us so well this year and see if we can figure out the best way to attack Sunday's much anticipated showdown.

SAN FRANCISCO at ATLANTA (3 p.m. ET on FOX)
Las Vegas Spread: San Francisco by 4, total of 49

Maybe the line will have dropped to San Francisco by 3.5 by the time you read this. Maybe not. Home field advantage counts for three points in the NFL. That line is saying that San Francisco would be -7 on a neutral field, and a whopping -10 if they were playing at home. Is Joe Montana the quarterback?! You can see why Power Ratings guys would take issue with that line. The total of 49 is projecting a relatively high scoring game. Though, respect for San Francisco's defense has kept the number beneath 50 as we go to press.

WON-LOST RECORDS (schedule strength according to USA Today)
San Francisco 11-4-1 (3rd ranked schedule)
Atlanta: 13-3 (25th ranked schedule)

This is at the heart of the debate. Atlanta may have posted a great won-lost record, and compiled results that would impress a Power Rating. But, they did it against a very easy schedule. San Francisco only lost four games despite playing the third toughest schedule in all of football. When we run through the key numbers, we must make a significant allowance for that. Had both teams played lead average schedules, we're probably looking at least 12-4 for the Niners (possibly 13-3), and probably 11-5 for the Falcons.

TURNOVER DIFFERENTIAL
San Francisco: +9
Atlanta: +13

Both teams have done a good job in the risk/reward area. After you adjust for the schedule, it's going to be fairly tight. Possibly a slight edge to the Niners. Common sense suggests that the more experienced quarterback would probably rule this category in a big game, particularly on his home field. We're going to give the Falcons this category in our own handicapping.

OFFENSIVE STATS
San Francisco: 361.8 yards-per-game on 6.0 yards-per-play
Atlanta: 369.1 yards-per-game on 5.8 yards-per-play

This may surprise many of you. If you were just talking about the game off the top of your head, you probably would have given San Francisco the edge on defense, and Atlanta the edge on offense. As you see above, these teams are very close on the offensive side of the ball before you adjust for strength of schedule. After you adjust, there's a clear edge to the Niners. They were already better on yards-per-play. Their deficit of 7.3 yards per game would turn into a plus with schedule factored in. Atlanta can definitely move the ball and put points on the board. But, it's San Francisco that has the better offense.

DEFENSIVE STATS
San Francisco: 294.4 yards-per-game on 4.7 yards-per-play
Atlanta: 356.6 yards-per-game on 5.9 yards-per-play

You'd have been right about defense! San Francisco wins this in a squash even before you talk about schedule strength. The Niners will bring a dominating edge on this side of the ball.

SAN FRANCISCO VS. PLAYOFF TEAMS (3-2 SU, 2-3 ATS)
San Francisco (+6) won at Green Bay 30-22
San Francisco (-6) lost at Minnesota 24-13
San Francisco (-7.5) beat Seattle 13-6
San Francisco (+4) won at New England 41-34
San Francisco (+2.5) lost at Seattle 42-13

These are only regular season games. One of the dark spots came in Minnesota back when Alex Smith was still the quarterback. The other came in a letdown situation against Seattle the week after San Francisco had stunned New England in Foxboro. That sets up an interesting parallel this week because the Niners played so well vs. Green Bay last week. Will they come in flat off that peak outing? Or, will they have learned a lesson in Seattle that will keep their heads on straight here?

ATLANTA VS. PLAYOFF TEAMS (2-0 SU, 2-0 ATS)
Atlanta (-3) beat Denver 27-21
Atlanta (-3) won at Washington 24-17

Last week we talked about how un-battle tested the Falcons were vs. playoff quality. That almost cost them again as they blew a huge lead before kicking a last second field goal. In terms of playoff readiness, the Falcons have two pedestrian regular season wins and then a home field thriller that they almost choked. San Francisco crushed Green Bay last week, and beat New England in Foxboro. Big difference!

LAST WEEK'S BOXSCORES

SAN FRANCISCO 45, GREEN BAY 31
Total Yardage: Green Bay 352, San Francisco 579
Rushing Yards: Green Bay 104, San Francisco 323
Passing Stats: Green Bay 26-39-1-248, San Francisco 17-31-1-256
Turnovers: Green Bay 2, San Francisco 1
Third Downs: Green Bay 42%, San Francisco 62%
Vegas Line: San Francisco by 3, total of 45

Wow...the stats were more one-sided than the score. San Francisco made a run at 600 total yards in an NFL playoff game. And, they did so by moving the chains and making big plays within a balanced attack. Offensively, that's as close to perfection as you're likely to see at this level. Well, after the early pick six! Those numbers are also a key reason the "new school" statheads were betting San Francisco at lower numbers.

ATLANTA 30, SEATTLE 28
Total Yardage: Seattle 491, Atlanta 417
Rushing Yards: Seattle 123, Atlanta 167
Passing Stats: Seattle 24-36-1-368, Atlanta 24-35-2-250
Turnovers: Seattle 2, Atlanta 2
Third Downs: Seattle 38%, Atlanta 55%
Vegas Line: Atlanta by 3, total of 47

A win is a win. But, the Falcons defense basically disappeared in the second half. That allowed a fatigued visitor to make a run at 500 total yards. Matt Ryan will have to have an even bigger game than that if he expects to reach the Super Bowl. More passing yards, and no interceptions.

BEST EXPECTATION
Have we learned what we needed? The raw stats suggest San Francisco can dominate. The potential for turnover impact can bail out the home team because it's the visitor who's in a clear letdown spot with an inexperienced signal caller. Atlanta could certainly derive a 12th man edge from a loud crowd too. Though that hasn't served them in previous home playoff games, and did nothing to stymie Seattle's comeback last week.

JIM HURLEY has been working very closely with his on-site sources because that's where the key to victory lies in his opinion. The stat indicator are clear. The computer simulations make it obvious that San Francisco is in great shape if they avoid turnovers, and in trouble if they don't. To win this game, you need to get a read on the mindset of the Niners entering battle. You'll be able to purchase JIM HURLEY'S read on this game and the AFC Championship right here at the website with your credit card this weekend.

Jim swept both Conference Championships last year and is 11-1 the past 6 years! Click here for this Sunday's action.

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Back with you tomorrow to preview Baltimore/New England in the AFC title tilt. When championships are on the line, you need WORLD CHAMPION HANDICAPPER JIM HURLEY!

18
Nov

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