Had the Falcons kept the rout going against Seattle in last Sunday's divisional round, the spread here would be different. But Atlanta (14-3) nearly blew it, raising questions among the odds makers about how good the Falcons really are.
They're plenty good, as their last-minute rally to Matt Bryant's 49-yard field goal to beat the Seahawks proved. The issue: San Francisco (12-4-1) simply is better.
Of the remaining four teams, the 49ers are the most balanced. They have the best defense by far; only Seattle's unit really challenged them among all the playoff qualifiers.
Atlanta will struggle to run against Patrick Willis, Justin Smith, NaVorro Bowman and Co. So the Falcons will take to the air, a wise decision when you have playmakers Tony Gonzalez, Roddy White and Julio Jones.
Problem is, the Niners' secondary is as good as any, even if the interceptions were down this season. And the pass rush, sparked by Aldon Smith (19½ sacks), is formidable.
Where San Francisco has an edge over last year, when it lost at home to the Giants for the conference crown, is in its passing game. Second-year QB Colin Kaepernick has added a dynamic dimension with his strong arm, escapability and overall athletic skills. Michael Crabtree has developed into a dependable receiver with big-play abilities.
Add that to Frank Gore's running, and Atlanta's D will be overmatched.