Falcons would be 49ers' easiest opponent

January 5, 2012, 5:38 pm
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The 49ers coaches are spending "the greater share" of the time this week preparing to face the New Orleans Saints.That's what coach Jim Harbaugh said Wednesday on 95.7 The Game. And there is certainly no reason to doubt him.Folks in Detroit -- including coach Jim Schwartz -- can take that however they want. Is Harbaugh saying he fully expects the Lions' season to end Saturday in New Orleans? Or are Harbaugh and his staff just playing the percentages?The 49ers have already prepared for the New York Giants. They faced the Giants on Nov. 13. The 49ers have not game-planned to face New Orleans or Atlanta this season. The 49ers will know Saturday evening whether they're going to face the Saints. They wouldn't know until early Sunday afternoon if their opponent will be New York or Atlanta.
Here's a brief look at the possibilities for the 49ers' playoff opener on Saturday, Jan. 14, at Candlestick Park in the divisional round of the NFC playoffs:ATLANTA FALCONS
How it happens: Detroit beats New Orleans on Saturday; Falcons win at New York Giants on Sunday.
Overview: None of these possible divisional-round matchups is going to be easy for the 49ers. But the Falcons would have the greatest disadvantage in a potential second-round game against the 49ers. First, the Falcons have to travel to New York this weekend. The Falcons play Sunday, and their game against the 49ers would be on Saturday -- a short week with a healthy dose of travel in between. The Falcons were 4-4 on the road this season, including a 45-16 loss to the Saints on Dec. 26. But they have a balanced offense with Michael Turner rushing for 1,340 yards, and quarterback Matt Ryan throwing to Roddy White (100 catches, 1,296 yards, eight touchdowns), Tony Gonzalez (80-875-7) and rookie Julio Jones (54-959-8).NEW YORK GIANTS
How it happens: Detroit beats New Orleans on Saturday; Giants win at home against Falcons on Sunday.
Overview: We've seen this one before. The 49ers outlasted the Giants 27-20 in a tightly contested game at Candlestick. This was the game in which Frank Gore rushed for 0 yards on six carries before leaving the game with a knee contusion. Alex Smith threw for 242 yards. Eli Manning passed for 311 yards with two touchdowns. Carlos Rogers intercepted two of Manning's passes. In this game, the 49ers caught the Giants napping with a surprise onside kick in the second quarter that led to a David Akers field goal. The game was not decided until Justin Smith batted down a fourth-down pass at the line of scrimmage from the 49ers' 10-yard line with 34 seconds to play.
How it happens: Saints beat Detroit on Saturday.
Overview: There's something here. Reportedly, Saints coach Sean Payton was upset that Harbaugh did not return his call prior to their exhibition opener. Payton wanted to discuss with Harbaugh how to handle this game after just two weeks of preparation following the lockout. New Orleans defensive coordinator Gregg Williams threw an absurd number of blitzes at the 49ers. Alex Smith was sacked twice, hit many other times, and completed just 2 of 7 attempts for 10 yards. The Saints are a different team outside of the Superdome, though. But quarterback Drew Brees is Drew Brees. He averaged 342.2 yards passing per game for an NFL-record 5,476 passing yards. This would be outstanding theater. NFL WILD CARD WEEKEND
AFC: Cincinnati at Houston (NBC), 1:30 p.m.
NFC: Detroit at New Orleans (NBC), 5 p.m.Sunday
NFC: Atlanta at N.Y. Giants (FOX), 10 a.m.
AFC: Pittsburgh at Denver (CBS), 1:30 p.m. NFL DIVISIONAL PLAYOFFS
Saturday, January 14
NFC: New Orleans or N.Y. GiantsAtlanta winner at San Francisco (FOX), 1:30 p.m.
AFC: DenverPittsburghCincinnati at New England (CBS), 5 p.m.Sunday, January 15
AFC: HoustonDenverPittsburgh at Baltimore (CBS), 10 a.m.
NFC: N.Y. GiantsAtlantaDetroit at Green Bay (FOX), 1:30 p.m.