If we learned anything after 16 regular-season games and last week’s divisional playoff round, the 49ers will be making travel arrangements for New Orleans and Super Bowl XLVII about 3:30 p.m. Sunday.
While San Francisco still has to beat the Atlanta Falcons in the NFC Championship Game at the Georgia Dome on Sunday, it’s a mere formality at this point.
That’s not pandering to the hometown crowd. Facts are facts. Matchups dictate games. And come Sunday, Atlanta will be exposed by a diverse, explosive 49ers offense and thoroughly manhandled by an aggressive, physical San Francisco defense.
The playoff chips couldn’t have fallen any better for the 49ers. First, the Green Bay Packers lost their regular-season finale, giving ailing defensive lineman Justin Smith and the rest of the Niners a week to heal and guaranteeing a home divisional playoff game. The Niners did their part and took care of business against the Packers on Saturday night, tossing them around like rag dolls to the tune of 323 yards rushing.
Then Sunday, despite giving its best effort to hand the Seattle Seahawks a victory on a silver platter, Atlanta emerged victorious, setting up Sunday’s NFC Championship Game. The Seattle matchup, even at Candlestick Park, would have been dicey for the 49ers. But that’s not the case against the Falcons.
This is a Falcons team that only saw three of its 13 regular-season victories come against winning teams. A Falcons team that had to struggle to beat the Raiders — yes, the same Raiders — and the bottom-feeding Arizona Cardinals at home.
A Falcons team that has become notorious for pulling a David Copperfield and disappearing in big-game situations. Sunday’s escape job against the Seahawks sure wasn’t enough to shake that reputation — that performance was more like slapping a Band-Aid on a broken leg.
The Niners’ superiority will be most evident in the trenches, where Atlanta is weakest. The Falcons ranked 29th in rushing and 21st in stopping the run. The Niners? Frank Gore and Co. were the fourth-best rushing attack this season, and the defense was the fourth-best at stuffing the run.
When you add Niners quarterback Colin Kaepernick and the read option to the equation, look out. The Falcons have been terrible at defending mobile quarterbacks. Russell Wilson ran for 60 yards and threw for 385 yards last week. Cam Newton threw for 502 yards, ran for 202 yards and totaled six touchdowns in two games against the Falcons this year.
You can be sure coach Jim Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Greg Roman are salivating after watching those game tapes as they devise new ways to utilize Kaepernick’s dynamic playmaking ability.
Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan will fling it around to Roddy White and Julio Jones, and Atlanta will score some points, but it won’t be enough. The X’s and O’s favor the 49ers, who have the added edge of motivation after their shot at the big stage slipped through Kyle Williams’ fingers last year.
It’s been 18 years since the 49ers have played in the Super Bowl. With the Falcons flagging, Kaepernick under center and a razor-sharp offense, that drought ends Sunday.
Dylan Kruse is the sports editor of The San Francisco Examiner. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter @dkruse16.