The top-seeded Atlanta Falcons are set to host the San Francisco 49ers this Sunday at the Georgia Dome in the NFC Championship game. Winner of this game will move on and play in the Super Bowl in New Orleans on February 3rd. Both the Falcons and 49ers will be playing with something to prove on Sunday, especially the increasingly popular quarterbacks of each franchise.
Falcon’s quarterback Matt Ryan led his team to a 13-3 record on the year, tied for the best record in the NFL with Peyton Manning’s Denver Broncos. Ryan has gotten better and better each year since he entered the league in 2008, but his biggest criticism has always been that he can’t win the big games. After losing the first three playoff games of his career, Ryan finally won his first postseason game last week against the Seattle Seahawks.
Even though Ryan got his first playoff win, going “one and done” in the postseason is not going to be enough to satisfy the Falcons or their fans. An NFL quarterback makes his legacy in the postseason, and Ryan knows that if he wants to be an all-time great, he has to win the big games. A loss for the Falcons would overshadow all of their regular season accomplishments and make this season nothing more than a bust.
San Francisco 49ers’ quarterback Colin Kaepernick is also playing under heavy pressure this week, but for different reasons than Ryan. When Ryan was drafted by the Falcons, he was drafted to take over a struggling team and bring it to the top. Kaepernick, who was drafted by the 49ers in 2011 to be the backup of former number one overall pick Alex Smith, took over a team that already had Super Bowl expectations when he arrived.
Smith led the 49ers to the NFC Championship game last year and lost to the Giants. If it hadn’t been for a few late game fumbles by a Niners kick returner, Smith likely would have won the game and played in the Super Bowl against the Patriots. Smith was off to another good season this year until he sustained a concussion and had to take some time off. Kaepernick played great while Smith was out and the combination of his speed, arm strength, and untapped potential led the Niners coach to keep him in as the starter over Smith when Smith returned. This move was highly controversial and still is a hot topic around the league. A win for Kaepernick would not only get his team to the Super Bowl, it would mean that he led his team farther than Smith ever has in his eight year career.
With both teams playing with a lot to lose, the NFC Championship is expected to be a very intense game. This game could also be the beginning of a great new rivalry in the NFL. Both the Falcons and Niners are young, have franchise quarterbacks, and boast one of the league’s top defenses. The game between the Falcons and 49ers on Sunday may very well be the first of many NFC Championship games between the two teams with Matty “Ice” Ryan and Colin “Kap” Kaepernick leading the way.