1. Don't fall behind early
Theoretically, one of the biggest mismatches on the field Sunday will be the 49ers' rush offense, which ranked fourth in the league during the regular season, against the Falcons' run defense -- which ranked 21st. The Falcons handled the Seahawks' third-ranked rush offense last week, but that was mostly because Atlanta took a 20-0 lead and forced the Seahawks to switch their game plan. The 49ers have struggled when forced out of their game plan, which during the regular season was 53 percent run to 47 percent pass. In San Francisco's four losses, the 49ers threw 60.1 percent of the time and ran 39.8 percent. If San Francisco falls behind by double digits like the Seahawks, a trip to New Orleans will almost certainly be out of the question.
2. QB Colin Kaepernick has to stay composed on the road
Kaepernick hasn't made many mistakes, but when he does, they seem to happen on the road. Kaepernick only threw three interceptions during the regular season, and they all came away from Candlestick Park. Kaepernick's road completion percentage (58.8 percent) is nearly eight points lower than his home percentage (66.7 percent). In seven regular-season starts, Kaepernick went 5-2 with the losses coming on the road. The 49ers aren't going to win this game without a strong performance from Kaepernick, so he needs to come out and prove he can play in front of what will surely be a hostile Georgia Dome crowd.
|The home of the Super Bowl|
3. Is the good David Akers back?
David Akers might have hit his one field goal attempt against Green Bay last week, but it was at home and from only 36 yards, not exactly a daunting task. On the road, in a loud dome with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line is a little bit tougher, just ask the 49ers' other kicker, Billy Cundiff, who missed a 32-yard field goal last season that could have sent the Ravens to the Super Bowl. Jim Harbaugh needs to figure out early how much confidence he has in his kicker, and if he doesn't have any, then he needs to keep Akers on the bench. The 49ers lost last year's NFC Championship thanks in large part to two special team gaffes -- fumbled punts by Kyle Williams -- the city of San Francisco might not survive if the 49ers lose another NFC title game because of special teams.
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