FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- One half of the equation for Super Bowl XLVII is settled: The San Francisco 49ers defeated the Atlanta Falcons 28-24 in the NFC Championship to advance, and now await the winner of Patriots-Ravens on the AFC side.
Should the Patriots punch their own ticket to the Super Bowl, here are a few early thoughts on a potential 49ers-Patriots matchup.
1. Rematch from Week 15. The 49ers traveled cross-country to Gillette Stadium in Week 15 and raced to a massive 31-3 lead early in the third quarter over the Patriots. The game looked to be over at that point, but the Patriots offense went on a tear to score 28 unanswered points to knot the game back up at 31 in the fourth. Ultimately, the Patriots couldn't get a stop late in the fourth quarter, yielding 10 more 49ers points, and falling short on what would have been an epic comeback. If Week 15 is any indication, these two teams are an extremely even matchup from a talent standpoint.
2. Slowing Kaepernick. The Patriots did about as well as anyone has in slowing down 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick as a runner, limiting him to 28 yards on four carries. What they didn't do is keep Kaepernick in check as a passer, as he finished with four touchdown throws, including two to Michael Crabtree. Kaepernick has proved how dangerous he is as a runner during his time as a starter, and recently set an NFL record for most rushing yards by a quarterback in a postseason game against the Packers with 182. Finding a way to contain Kaepernick, both on the ground (via the read option) and through the air, would be critical.
3. Moss reunion. Former Patriots wide receiver Randy Moss has been a solid veteran addition for San Francisco this year, and he actually had a touchdown catch against the Patriots back in Week 15. Head coach Jim Harbaugh has shared round praise for Moss as a teammate this season, and he has been thrust into a larger role due to a recent injury to Mario Manningham.
4. Turnovers will be key. Four turnovers failed the Patriots back in Week 15, as slick conditions left running backs vulnerable to fumbles. The game also occurred in the midst of an uncharacteristic stretch for Tom Brady, as he threw two interceptions and just one touchdown. The Patriots were as careful with the football as virtually any team this season, but San Francisco has a hard-hitting defense that can alter the course of a game with forced fumbles and interceptions.
5. Blocking the Smiths. The 49ers boast a pair of Smiths on the defensive line, Justin and Aldon, who team up to form one of the better defensive tandems in football (linebackers Patrick Willis and Navorro Bowman are no slouches either). Aldon Smith finished with 19.5 sacks this season, but was truly at his best with Justin on the field, as all of his sacks came with Justin also on the field at the same time. Aldon registered a pair of quarterback hits on Brady back in Week 15.