- Mike Sando, NFL Insider
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Quarterback equalizers: The 49ers went 5-2 this season when facing top-10 quarterbacks by regular-season Total QBR scores. They can make it 6-2 with a victory over Matt Ryan's Falcons. Colin Kaepernick was the 49ers' quarterback when the team defeated Tom Brady (Patriots), Aaron Rodgers (Packers) in the playoffs, and Drew Brees (Saints). Alex Smith was under center for the 49ers when the team defeated Rodgers in Week 1 and Russell Wilson (Seahawks) in Week 7. Kaepernick lost to Wilson in Week 16. Smith lost to Eli Manning (Giants).
Tough tasks on road: The 49ers are heading into an unfriendly NFL venue for the third time in 35 days. The Falcons are 34-6 at home during the regular season and playoffs when Ryan starts at quarterback. The 49ers won last month in Foxborough, Mass., where the Patriots are 86-15 when Brady starts. More recently, the 49ers lost at Seattle, where the Seahawks were 8-0 this season. The home win-loss records for Brady (.851) and Ryan (.850) rank first and second among quarterbacks entering the league during the Super Bowl era (minimum 20 home starts). Terry Bradshaw (75-14) and Joe Flacco (35-7) are next on the list. The 49ers also won on the road this season against Brees, who has gone 32-11 in the Superdome since 2008.
Mixing it up: The 49ers or Falcons will become the ninth franchise to represent the NFC in a Super Bowl over the past 10 years. New England, Pittsburgh and Indianapolis are the only AFC franchises to play in Super Bowls over the same period. This will change only if Baltimore defeats the Patriots in the AFC Championship Game. Carolina, Philadelphia, Seattle, Chicago, Arizona, New Orleans, Green Bay and the New York Giants (twice) have represented the NFC over the past nine years. On a side note, the Falcons defeated the 49ers in the 1998 postseason on their way to their lone Super Bowl appearance.
Tight ends should flourish: Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez has 99 receptions in 17 games this season and could be wrapping up a Hall of Fame career. His 49ers counterpart, Vernon Davis, finished the 2011 postseason with 10 receptions for 292 yards and four touchdowns. The numbers suggest one or both could make a significant impact on Sunday.
When opponents target tight ends, the Falcons' defense ranks last in the NFL in Total QBR allowed (96.8), last in yards allowed per drop-back (9.3) and 31st in yards allowed per completed pass (12.6). Those figures count the postseason.
Although the 49ers have allowed a league-low 8.78 yards per completion to tight ends through the divisional round, tight ends caught eight of the 19 touchdown passes San Francisco allowed during the regular season. That was the second-highest percentage in the NFL behind Denver. Only five teams allowed more scoring passes to tight ends.
Nice option to have: The Falcons allowed a league-high 8.9 yards per carry to opposing quarterbacks this season, ranking just worse than Buffalo (8.8) and Green Bay (8.5). Kaepernick set an NFL record for quarterbacks with 181 yards rushing against the Packers in the divisional round.
49ers' Pistol Offense With Kaepernick
Atlanta has allowed a respectable 3.9 yards per carry on the 36 regular-season and postseason option rushes when quarterbacks handed off the ball. But opposing QBs gained 124 yards on six carries when quarterbacks kept the ball. Cam Newton accounted for nearly all that yardage thanks to option runs covering 72, 32 and 10 yards against the Falcons.
The 49ers often run the option from Pistol formations. The team gained 233 yards rushing and passing from the Pistol against Green Bay. That matched the 49ers' total from the formation beginning in Week 11 -- when Kaepernick became a starter -- through the end of the regular season.
Kaepernick is getting most of the attention, but wouldn't it be fitting if one of the 49ers' most respected and longest-tenured players, Frank Gore, wound up leading the team to the Super Bowl? Gore says he's getting more comfortable with the changes implemented when Kaepernick became the quarterback. His 119 yards and 5.2-yard average against the Packers marked season highs for Gore since Kaepernick became the starter.
ESPN Stats & Information contributed to this item.
Five nuggets of knowledge about the NFC Championship Game matchup Sunday between the San Francisco 49ers and Atlanta Falcons in the Georgia Dome:Quarterback equalizers: The 49ers went 5-2 this season when facing top-10 quarterbacks by regular-season Total QBR scores.