Tonight the 49ers host the Atlanta Falcons in what is most likely the final sporting event at Candlestick Park. The celebratory mood of the game has been tempered a bit with yesterday's win in Seattle by the Cardinals. While the Cardinal victory keeps alive the 49ers hopes of winning the NFC West it also makes tonights game a must win for the 49ers to secure a playoff berth before heading to Arizona for the final game of the season.
With that as the backdrop let's take a look at 5 burning questions to which the answers will be key to the outcome of the game.
1) How will the 49ers offense handle the loss of Bruce Miller? - Without a doubt the loss of Miller, who was playing at a Pro Bowl level this season, is a blow to the 49ers offense. A few days ago I put together a piece detailing how the 49ers may fill the void left by Miller's absence and looking at how the 49ers offensive coaching staff has performed this season there may be little reason to think twice.
With a win tonight the 49ers will be tied for the second best record in the NFC, and they have accomplished that despite not having their best receiver for the first eleven games.
2) Can Aldon Smith and Ahmad Brooks take advantage of the Falcons tackles? - When looking at why the Falcons have gone from having the best record in the NFC in 2012 to only 4 wins in 2013 one needs look no further than the Falcon offensive line. Their starting left tackle, Lamar Holmes, is one of the worst pass blocking tackles in the the NFL and has been graded out 73rd of 76 by ProFootballFocus. Over on the other side is Jeremy Trueblood, and PFF has him as 54th of 76 eligible tackles.
Tonight they will be up against Aldon Smith and Ahmad Brooks. The 49ers duo has combined for 6 sacks during the 49ers current 4 game winning streak and things look set up for them to add to those totals tonight.
3) Will the 49ers passing game take off? - The 49ers should be in for a big night through the air. The Falcons secondary comes into the game having only 1 regular giving up a quarterback rating under 80, Desmond Trufant at 77.9. Falcon cornerbacks Robert McClain, Robert Alford, and Asante Samuel come into the game giving up ratings of 125.8, 100.3 and 113.7. Look for Michael Crabtree and Anquan Boldin to have a big night.
The safeties are just as bad. Thomas DeCoud comes into tonights game giving up a rating of 153.0, 158.3 is perfect, and William Moore is at a 96.5. Vernon Davis enters tonight's game having recorded a touchdown receptions in each of the 49ers last 5 games and needing only 40 yards to become the all-time yardage leader among 49ers tight ends. Given what he is going up against he may be able to reach that level tonight.
4) Can the 49ers keep the pattern alive? - Since Jim Harbaugh took over in 2011 the 49ers have defeated opponents with a losing record by an average of 21 points in games held at Candlestick Park.
5) Can the 49ers snap the streak? - Mike Smith took over as head coach of the Falcons in 2008, and since that time the Falcons have not lost a game on the West Coast, going 6-0 over that span.
49ers 31 Falcons 13