Kaepernick the X Factor in tightly matched NFC title game

Fri Jan 18, 2013 1:43pm EST
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By Simon Evans

(Reuters) - The Atlanta Falcons are one game from finally turning their Super Bowl potential into reality but while their presence in the NFC Championship game is no shock, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick is certainly a surprise element.

Sunday's game in the Georgia Dome will arguably come down to whether Atlanta's defense, which has struggled against mobile quarterbacks this season, will be able to cope with the fast read-option plays of the thrillingly unpredictable Kaepernick.

Atlanta have everything else in place.

They have a reliable and accomplished orthodox quarterback in Matt Ryan who is well protected by a strong offensive line.

The Falcons have a powerhouse running back in Michael Turner, two of the league's top receivers in Roddy White and Julio Jones and one of the finest tight ends in the league's history in 16-year performer Tony Gonzalez, who is looking for a first Super Bowl in what is likely his final season.

On the other side of the ball, Mike Smith's team had the sixth ranked defense in the NFC against both the pass and the rush.

But the playoffs are all about the moment, about peaking and about individuals finding that little extra when it really matters and no-one in the NFL is doing that more than Kaepernick.

The 49ers are back, one win from the Super Bowl again, after last year's agonizing defeat to eventual winners, the New York Giants, at the same stage of the season.   Continued...

San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick talks to a teammate on the bench in the fourth quarter during their NFL NFC Divisional playoff football game against the Green Bay Packers in San Francisco, California, January 12, 2013. REUTERS/Mike Blake