There's a big reason as to why the San Francisco 49ers were big favorites over the Atlanta Falcons in the NFC Championship game, despite it being played in the Georgia Dome, and perhaps the biggest catalyst for the odds actually wasn't on display on Sunday.
Make no mistake about it: the 49ers have plenty of things they do well that made people feel that they could earn the tough road win, but there was one explosive performer in the Divisional Round that tipped the scales.
People couldn't shut up about Kaepernick and his near-200-yard performance on the ground to vanquish the Packers and they absolutely gushed about his four touchdowns. The question, "How can the Falcons stop him?" was asked more than once, but as the game got closer, we saw less and less talk of Kaepernick.
Obviously, the 49ers weren't going to come out and do the same exact thing and the Falcons obviously weren't going to fall for it if they did. And true enough on Sunday, the Falcons had a linebacker spying Kaepernick for a large portion of the game.
But it's almost like the 49ers knew that the Falcons were going to do it, and then that the Falcons knew the 49ers knew that they knew. You know?
Being that, the Falcons ran something of a loose spy. The linebacker never planted, but believe you me, had Kaepernick started to run wild, the Falcons would have clamped down on it much more effectively than Green Bay was able to. They were prepared.
Kaepernick still played well, and without him, the 49ers surely wouldn't have come out on top on Sunday. But now, the hype around Kaepernick heading into the Super Bowl will be less about what he was able to do in Green Bay, and more about him as a person, and the fact that he'll be making his 10th career start.
Well scratch all that and get right back to the hype, because the 49ers will likely go back to the option-heavy offense against the Ravens, They used the option a good deal against the Falcons, but it never looked like Kaepernick was truly ready to run the ball. More than that, the 49ers only ran one drawn-up quarterback run against the Falcons, by my count.
There are a few reasons why I think the Ravens will have trouble containing Kaepernick in the Super Bowl.
On one hand, we consistently hear about the age of the Ravens. Some call them the oldest roster in the NFL, and those people would be wrong. The Ravens have a younger roster, on average, than the 49ers do. But when you just look at the defense, Baltimore does have one of the oldest.
That's mostly just a testament to how young and talented their offense is. But on top of the age factor, there's also the fact that the Baltimore defense is playing more than everyone else.
The Ravens' defense was on the field for 87 plays in the wildcard round and 87 plays in the divisional round game. In the regular season, the Ravens averaged 67 defensive plays per game. Against the Patriots, the Ravens didn't play as much, but Tom Brady went out and laid an egg anyway.
They're tired, and two weeks of rest will help them to some extent, but it's been a long season with a lot of lumps taken for the Ravens. We've already taken a look at some of the option things the 49ers can do and we'll certainly take more, but I'm here to tell you, quite simply, that the Ravens are tired, and Kaepernick is poised for a big, big day running the football.
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