Amidst all the hype surrounding the performance of Colin Kaepernick and the San Francisco 49ers, it seems the Atlanta Falcons haven't received their fair share of the credit. They are a hot team going into the NFC Championship, and are certainly capable of defeating the Niners.
The Falcons bring a lot of speed to the field, and have no shortage of playmakers. Their defense has played well enough to help them win 14 out of 17, including their first postseason win in the Matt Ryan era.
Offensively and defensively, this is a precise and opportunistic team that has the pieces in place to advance to a Super Bowl.
Moreover, there are plenty of things that could potentially go wrong for the 49ers. Whether the problems are manifested internally or externally, there is a chance San Francisco is exposed in some respects.
Saturday's victory over the Green Bay Packers was only Kaepernick's 8th NFL start. Since Week 11 of the regular season, he has gone 6-2. And though he has a winning record, in the big picture, he is an inexperienced quarterback that still has a lot to learn.
The good news is that so far, Kaepernick has responded well to moments of adversity, showing he can thrive. However, winning back-to-back postseason games in the NFL is a different story. This is a very new and very challenging thing for a 25-year-old second-year player to do - especially for a quarterback.
The unknowns of this weekend's game may creep up on the young passer and affect the match.
Every third game...
Whether it was Colin Kaepernick or Alex Smith behind center, every third game the 49ers competed in during the 2012 season resulted in a loss or tie.
49ers 2012-13 schedule, courtesy of ESPN.com
The team would come out flat and get handled in multiple respects. In four losses and one tie, the Niners were outcoached and outplayed. They appeared out of character by committing mental mistakes and not playing fundamental football.
The biggest concern related to this is that they won't be able to stop the run. The 49ers got beat up on the ground in those games as their opponents prepared balanced attacks. The opposing team's ability to run the ball stripped San Francisco of the fear factor, giving the offense confidence.
Another bad sign would be if Frank Gore doesn't get his carries. The Niners' feature back averaged 12.25 carries in four losses in 2012, finishing with less than 10 attempts in two of those contests.
What if Crabtree gets locked up?
Since Colin Kaepernick was introduced to the starting lineup, Michael Crabtree caught fire and has not cooled down since.
If the Falcons scheme to lock up Crabtree, this could pose a real problem for the 49ers. He has been the only truly productive receiver in San Francisco's offense. The usual go-to-guy, Vernon Davis, has been quiet and Randy Moss, Ted Ginn Jr. and A.J. Jenkins haven't provided much else.
It was a bit unnerving to see Ginn getting the amount of snaps that he did in the divisional round. He entered the season as the team's fifth wide receiver for a reason, but injuries at the position have put him in a ‘next man up' situation.
Meanwhile, the 49ers' first rounder, Jenkins, is yet to catch a ball. He also had zero targets once again on Saturday. One would believe that Kaepernick is eventually going to connect with him, but it is yet to be seen unless you count the preseason.
If the Falcons manage to put the clamps down on Crabtree, where does that leave the 49ers offense?