When the NFL schedule was released in the spring, the "Monday Night Football" finale between the Falcons and 49ers looked like one of the games of the year. It was to be a rematch of the 2012 NFC Championship Game -- won in thrilling fashion by the Niners at the Georgia Dome -- as well as the final regular-season game at historic but ancient Candlestick Park. One of those is still true.
While the 49ers look very capable of winning the NFC for the second year in a row, the Falcons have gone splat and are the biggest disappointment of their conference (sorry Redskins, I expected you to come way back to earth this season). So they are simply playing spoiler. This should be the final game at the Stick because the Niners almost assuredly are going to have to win three road games in the playoffs to return to the Super Bowl. There have been some incredible moments at the stadium. My Top 2 are "The Catch" by Dwight Clark to beat the Cowboys in the 1981 season's NFC Championship Game and start the 49ers' dynasty; and the "Owens! Owens! Owens!" shocking TD by Terrell Owens to beat the Packers in a wild-card game following the 1998 season. The Niners move into their spectacular Levi's Stadium next season, which isn't even in San Francisco but Santa Clara, about 40 miles from the Stick.
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This will be the 36th MNF game at Candlestick, the most of any stadium. The Niners are 24-11 in the previous 35.
Falcons at 49ers Betting Story Lines
It's going to be tough to handicap this game because San Francisco may have nothing to play for other than perhaps deciding if it wants to be the No. 5 or No. 6 seed in the NFC. Should Seattle win at home Sunday against Arizona, which I expect, then the Niners are officially locked into a wild-card spot. Assuming the No. 6 loses in the first round, the 49ers are still going to have to visit Seattle on divisional weekend if they win on wild-card weekend. I think the Niners are the only team that can win there in the NFC, but I definitely think they can and probably will win at a New Orleans, Carolina, Philly or Chicago, etc. Earning the No. 5 still allows for the remote chance of hosting the NFC title game if somehow the No. 6 wins its first two games.
San Francisco (10-4) has had no trouble with bad teams this year, pounding every club on its schedule that currently has a losing record. The closest win was 23-13 at home against St. Louis three weeks ago. Last week the Niners scored their most points since Week 8 with a 33-14 win at Tampa Bay in what could have definitely been a trap game. Colin Kaepernick looked solid with 203 yards passing, two TDs and no turnovers. The Niners gashed Tampa Bay for 187 rushing yards, and when they run like that it's over. An even brighter sign from the game was that Michael Crabtree caught his first TD pass of the season in his third game back. He seems to be feeling better and better each week. Crabtree has helped open up the field for tight end Vernon Davis, who has a TD catch in all three games in which Crabtree has played; actually, Davis has a TD in five straight.
So what has gone wrong with Atlanta (4-10)? Matt Ryan has been pretty good as usual, throwing for 3,887 yards and 22 touchdowns, but he hasn't been quite as solid as his career 2012 season. Ryan's rating is a little more than 11 points worse so far. The offensive line has struggled as Ryan has been sacked a career-high 34 times. Injuries have played a huge role as well. Ryan lost top receiver Julio Jones to a season-ending injury early on. Running back Steven Jackson, the big offseason addition, has been limited to 10 games due to injury and hasn't been very good when on the field, averaging just 3.5 yards per carry. When will teams learn that when a back hits 30 he just isn't the same? Expect the Falcons to address that position in the 2014 draft, although not with what should be a Top-5 pick in the first round. Atlanta would do jumping jacks if Jadeveon Clowney was there when it picks. The Falcons are 28th in sacks with 28 and 29th in total defense.
Falcons at 49ers Betting NFL Monday Night Football Week 16 Odds and Trends
At Bovada, the 49ers are 13-point favorites with a total of 45.5. Atlanta is 5-9 ATS (2-5 on road) and 8-6 “over/under” (3-4 on road). San Francisco is 10-4 ATS (4-3 at home) and 6-8 O/U (2-5 at home). The Falcons are 2-6 ATS in their past eight Monday games. They are 1-4 ATS in their past five after a win. The Niners are 5-0 ATS in their past five against teams with a losing record. San Francisco is 6-2 ATS in its past eight after an ATS win. The under is 13-6 in Atlanta's past 19 against teams with a winning record. The under is 4-1 in the Niners' past five Monday games. The Falcons are 2-6 ATS in the past eight in San Francisco.
Monday Night Football Predictions: Falcons at 49ers Betting Picks
Let's see, the 49ers are destroying teams with losing records while the Falcons haven't beaten a team with a winning mark. I'm sure the Niners don't want to send Candlestick out with a loss, but they could be a bit flat should the playoff spot already be clinched. Plus with all the distractions surrounding the final game there.
However, the Falcons are 6-0 under Mike Smith in games played on the West Coast and have won four straight regular-season games in this series. I definitely think Tony Gonzalez -- who unwittingly saved someone's life by crashing into the person on the sideline in 2000 at the Stick (Google it) -- wants a TD catch in the game. None of his NFL tight end-record 110 TD catches have come at Candlestick. The Niners will win the game but won't cover. I look for something like 24-14, so take the under.
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