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49ers’ defense: The 49ers allowed 21 points in the first half of last week’s win (seven came on an interception return) but then settled down, hitting Aaron Rodgers on nearly every throw the rest of the way. The pressure by the conference’s top-ranked defense disrupted Rodgers’ timing and ended the Packers’ comeback hopes. The 49ers this week will look to rattle and batter Ryan, who passed for 250 yards and three touchdowns last week. While he’s certainly not Rodgers, who posted the highest quarterback ranking in the history of the NFL in the regular season, Ryan is capable of hitting the deep throw and spreading the ball around. San Francisco led the NFC in sacks and has seven defensive players selected for the Pro Bowl.
Falcons’ defense: Atlanta was cruising in last week’s win over Seattle until defensive end John Abraham went to the bench after re-aggravating an ankle injury. That seemed to spring Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, and the Falcons again struggled with a speedy quarterback running the read option. Cam Newton used the play to put up 58 points in two games against Atlanta this season, and last week Wilson was unstoppable in the second half. Abraham is expected to play, but how long he’ll last or how effective he’ll be is uncertain. Nolan's defense allowed 298 yards, 18 first downs and four touchdowns in the second half last week. If Atlanta, which ranked 24th defensively in the regular season, can’t stop Kaepernick, it will have no hope of returning to the Super Bowl for the first time since 1999.
Patriots running back Shane Vereen was a key to New England's win against the Houston Texans in the divisional round, with Vereen becoming just the second Patriots player to score both a rushing and receiving touchdown in a playoff game.
A second-round selection in the 2011 NFL draft, Vereen battled injuries in 2012, but has come on strong as of late to give the Patriots another strong option in the backfield to compliment Stevan Ridley, who rushed for more than 1,200 yards and scored 12 touchdowns during the regular season.
In fact, in three of their last four AFC Championship Game appearances, the Patriots have compiled more than 100 yards rushing, including seeing strong performances from BenJarvus Green-Ellis (2012), Laurence Maroney (2008) and Corey Dillon (2005) pace victories and secure berths in Super Bowls for New England.