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Senior NFL Columnist

Title matchups: Weatherspoon vs. Kaepernick will be key

Falcons ILB Sean Weatherspoon vs. 49ers QB Colin Kaepernick: Weatherspoon is an athletic run-and-chase linebacker who brings a big pop when he hits you. He knocked Robert Griffin III out of the game when the Falcons played the Redskins. His ability to run and chase down Kaepernick on the read-option runs and to spy him on passing downs will be key.

Falcons WRs Julio Jones and Roddy White vs. 49ers CBs Tarell Brown and Carlos Rogers: It's all about the deep ball with the Falcons. They will have chances down the field with these two. They have to hit them. Brown has played well, and Rogers went to the Pro Bowl last year, but White and Jones are tough to handle.

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49ers OLB Aldon Smith vs. Falcons LT Sam Baker: Baker has quietly had a solid season, but Smith is an explosive player who can cause big problems for the Falcons. Smith hasn't been as good without a healthy Justin Smith, so it will be interesting to see what plays out here.

Patriots LT Nate Solder vs. Ravens OLB Terrell Suggs: Suggs is slowly starting to look like the old Suggs -- or at least closer to it. He had a sack last week and had some pressure against the Broncos. Solder has had a solid season and has handled some big-time pass rushers in important games in the past.

Patriots WR Wes Welker vs. Ravens CB Corey Graham: Welker had a big day in the first meeting against the Ravens, and that was against Lardarius Webb, who is now on injured reserve. Graham had a nice day last week against Denver with two picks, one for a score. He has been a pleasant surprise for Baltimore, but this is a tough task.

Ravens WR Torrey Smith vs. Patriots CB Aqib Talib: Smith torched Champ Bailey last week, putting his big-time speed on display. Talib came over six weeks ago and has done a nice job for the Patriots. He has the man-cover skills to stay with Smith.

Ravens RG Marshal Yanda and LG Kelechi Osemele vs. Patriots DT Vince Wilfork: Yanda is the best right guard in the NFL, but he will have his hands full with Wilfork, who had a big game last year against the Ravens in the playoffs. Osemele has played well since moving to left guard. But Wilfork is quick and powerful.

49ers RT Anthony Davis vs. Falcons LE Jonathan Babineaux: Babineaux is one of the more underrated players on the Atlanta defense. He has moved to left end from tackle to help anchor the run. He also slides inside sometimes. Davis is a mauler at right tackle. These two will have a private war when matched up against each other.

49ers TE Vernon Davis vs. Falcons LBs and S William Moore: The tight ends had big days against the Falcons when teams ran the read-option against them. Davis is capable of a big game down the field. They have to do a better job in zone coverage and when they are matched in man against him. Davis is explosive at times.

Ravens LT Bryant McKinnie vs. Patriots DE Chandler Jones: Jones was banged up last week with an ankle injury, but he's expected to play. McKinnie has played well in two playoff games, giving up just two pressures. The Patriots didn't have a sack last week, so Jones and the others have to get after Joe Flacco.

 
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