Can Jim Harbaugh, 49ers Win a Big Road Playoff Game?
One thing that has been lost in all of the discussion of this week's NFC Championship Game is how Jim Harbaugh's 49ers have performed in road playoff games. It's stunning that the pundits have not discussed the road playoff games where Harbaugh's 49ers....um...and...then they...well...
Oh - that's right. This is the first road playoff game for all but a handful of 49ers players - and the first road playoff game for its Head Coach. No one has pointed out that they beat the Saints at home last year, then lost to the Giants at home...then beat the Packers at home to start off this year's playoffs.
Let's also not forget that they are bringing a QB who has started only 9 games total.
Shouldn't this matter to some pundit, somewhere? I certainly haven't seen anyone bring it up. The Falcons are 34-7 at home under Mike Smith, and 34-6 in games where Matt Ryan starts - that's only surpassed byt the Patriots. They are playing a team where every single player of import is making their first playoff road trip, and most Falcons players are now into the 5th playoff game of their careers.
This might be a minor point - but road travel matters in a long NFL season - and matters even more when a team is travelling 2,400 miles over 3 time zones for their first EVER road playoff game.
Furthermore - what about history? Can anyone remember the last time the 49ers won a road playoff game? No? I'll give you some time...
Give up? Okay - it was the 1988-89 NFC Championship Game against the Chicago Bears. They're 0-5 since - including a 20-18 loss to the Falcons in 1998. Tell me - do you think if the Falcons were on the kind of road playoff losing streak, heading into San Fran, that it wouldn't be brought up?
The Falcons, incidentally, are 3-1 in their last 4 home playoff games. Granted - it's taken 14 years to accumulate that record. They're also 13-0 this year against teams they've faced only once - the category the 49ers fall into. I don't know what it is - but Mike Smith is ridiculously good at home when he needs to take down a team only once.
Jim Harbaugh might get a lot of credit for having a great start to his playoff career - but he's gotten to start it all off in the cozy, cavernous, confines of Candlestick Park (seriously, get a new stadium). It helped last year that he played in easily the weakest division in football.
If you go back and look at Mike Smith's first year, I think we'd all agree he would've won the game against Arizona if it had been played here in Atlanta. He didn't get that luxury.
Everyone is rushing to annoint the 49ers this week - and while I have much respect for them - I think it's very fair to point out that this team, and this regime, is completely unproven on the road in must win kind of games. Unless...of course...you count that one game in Seattle no one is talking about.
I know, I know...the 49ers are huge, physical, fast, etc. It's a mystery that they managed to lose 4 games, and tie one...just like it's a miracle that the Falcons stumbled into 13 wins for the 2nd time in 3 years. Why should the Falcons even bother to show up? Probably for the same reason the Giants, Vikings, Rams (twice) and Seahawks showed up to play the Niners this year.
Every week in the NFL is different. A+B rarely equals C. If you've ever bet on an NFL game, you know that's true. This week might be as predictable as traffic jams in an Atlanta Rush Hour - but history says it likely won't be.
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