Originally posted on NESN.com  |  Last updated 1/20/13
8 a.m. ET: The 49ers’ path to the NFC Championship Game has been a quest of redemption. Atlanta’s, on the other hand, has been a desperate battle for recognition. The Niners were in this exact spot last season, when dreadful third-down efficiency and a pair of fumbled punts by return man Kyle Williams doomed San Francisco in a 20-17 overtime loss to the underdog Giants. All of the key players from last year’s squad are back for the Niners, with one notable exception. Second-year quarterback Colin Kaepernick has taken the league by storm since replacing Alex Smith under center in Week 10, running offensive coodinator Greg Roman’s pistol offense like a well-oiled machine. Kaepernick’s coming-out party reached its peak last Saturday, when he rushed for 181 yards and two touchdowns — an NFL record for quarterbacks — while throwing for another two scores in a 45-31 win over Green Bay in the Divisional Round. On the other side, Atlanta finished the regular season tied for the league’s best record but has struggled to gain respect as a true Super Bowl threat. That’ll happen when you lose your opening game in three consecutive postseasons. Though the Birds finally got back in the win column last week, they were hardly dominant. Matt Ryan and Co. let a 20-point fourth-quarter lead slip away, needing a 49-yard field goal by Matt Bryant with eight seconds remaining to put away a relentless Seahawks squad. Atlanta will be the host this Sunday, but the Niners are four-point favorites. Who will punch their ticket to New Orleans? Check back here at kickoff to follow along. Game time is 3 p.m. ET.
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