A week ago, we wrote a preview of the Divisional Round playoff game against the Packers, giving you five reasons to be nervous and five more to be confident. It turns out, Niners fans should not have worried at all, because Colin Kaepernick and the rest of the offense blew the Packers out of the water, winning 45-31.
Kaepernick set all kinds of quarterback rushing records in the win, and pretty much ran free on the Green Bay defense. Will it be a repeat performance on a similarly pourous defense in Atlanta? Or will Kaepernick fold to the pressure of a road game in the playoffs? Let's start with the bad news:
1. Curse of the "Down" Game
The 49ers have not won three games in a row all season long—hard to believe, I know. They've been prone to blowing out a good team, and then collapsing the week after (see: winning in New England, losing to Seattle). It may not be a scientific trend, but it needs to change in Atlanta for the 49ers to advance.
2. No More Home Crowd
Candlestick Park was rocking last weekend, and it had to have a positive effect on the team's performance. Kap is going to have to lead the troops against the Falcons' defense and a hostile crowd.
3. Those Falcons Can Fly
As good as Aaron Rodgers and his Packers receiving corps are, the Falcons are even better. With Julio Jones and Roddy White on the outside, combined with legendary tight end Tony Gonzalez on the inside, this is one passing attack that can rip any defense to shreds. As the weakest point of the 49ers' vaunted defense, the secondary will really need to play a great game to limit the damage.
4. David Akers...Again
The 49ers made it very easy on kicker David Akers last weekend, scoring six touchdowns and giving him only one opportunity at a field goal. Granted, he nailed the kick. But that doesn't mean Akers is any more of a sure thing after a disastrous regular season. Again, if this game comes down to a last-second kick, 49er fans are justified in tearing their hair out if Akers is the one on the field.
5. Game Planning for Kaepernick
Kaepernick was a record-setter in his first career playoff game, but no opposing team would be foolish enough not to prepare for his scrambling ability going forward. Even if the Falcons don't have the best defense, they will be fully prepared to stop the rush and force Kap to beat them with his arm.
Having said all that, for every reason there is to be nervous about this Conference Championship, there is a better reason to be confident. And I'll start right where we left off -- with Kaepernick's arm.
1. The Kid Can Pass, Too
Kaepernick really didn't have to pass the ball in the win over Green Bay. After a bad pick-six on their first drive against the Packers, he looked great when the offense took to the air. The young QB has proven that he can be an effective passer, so if the Falcons do neutralize his scrambling, he can still beat them with his arm.
2. The Defenseless Falcons
If this point looks familiar, it's because you can pretty much take what we wrote last week about the Green Bay defense and reuse it here. Both opponents have below-average defensive units, and this game will likely come down to another shootout because of it. The 49ers should be, at the very least, able to run the ball with Frank Gore easily on the Falcons.
Can any team left in the playoffs claim more motivation than the 49ers? After last year's heartbreaking Championship loss, most of the starters know what it's like to be seconds away from earning a Super Bowl bid, only to have it snatched away. No athlete wants to repeat that feeling, so it's fair to say the 49ers will be playing with an extra spark on Sunday.
We were worried last week that the 49ers might suffer from the week off. After all, good teams get in a rythym over the course of 16 games and a week away from work can mess that up. Luckily, they showed no ill effects last weekend. If the Niners have reclaimed the momentum they had in the regular season, the Falcons are in for a long day.
5. Can Anyone Stop Crabtree?
The Packers sure couldn't. Michael Crabtree continued his breakout season with a nine-catch, 119-yard, two-touchdown performance in last week's win. If Crabtree puts up even remotely good numbers, the 49ers should win and advance to the Super Bowl in New Orleans.
Let us know what you think by following and tweeting @sanfranmag – will the 49ers win on Sunday and keep rolling into the Super Bowl?