1. QB matchup. The 49ers' Colin Kaepernick ranked third and the Atlanta Falcons' Matt Ryan ranked fourth in Total QBR during the regular season. Ryan was sixth and Kaepernick eighth in NFL passer rating. Kaepernick's rushing ability makes him the more dangerous quarterback in this matchup. He doesn't scramble the way Russell Wilson did against the Falcons, but he is a scoring threat every time he finds a running lane. Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton had 202 yards rushing against the Falcons in two games during the regular season. Kaepernick had 181 yards rushing against Green Bay in the divisional round.
2. Traveling well. The 49ers own road victories against Cincinnati, Philadelphia, Detroit, Washington, Seattle, Green Bay, St. Louis, Arizona, the New York Jets, New Orleans and New England since Jim Harbaugh became head coach. Kaepernick had four touchdown passes and was the NFC's offensive player of the week after leading the 49ers to a 41-34 victory over the Patriots at Gillette Stadium in December. Good teams can win anywhere. The 49ers have proven they can win regardless of venue.
3. Unfamiliar opponent. San Francisco came close to playing this game against division-rival Seattle at Candlestick Park. Playing at home would have been great, but facing an opponent less familiar with the 49ers could have advantages, too. The Falcons' run defense was susceptible during the regular season. The 49ers' playbook features a higher volume of running plays than usual. That will put pressure on a Falcons team that hasn't faced the 49ers during the Harbaugh era. The Packers appeared unprepared.
4. Nolan revisited. Former 49ers head coach Mike Nolan is the Falcons' defensive coordinator. He was last with the 49ers in 2008. Much has changed since then. Nolan's history with the 49ers isn't likely to affect the matchup. It's an aspect of interest to 49ers fans, however. Nolan posted an 18-37 record as coach for the team beginning in 2005. The Falcons' defense finished the regular season ranked fifth in points, 10th in Total QBR, 24th in yards, 21st in rushing yards, 29th in yards per rush, 23rd in passing yards, 21st in net pass yards per attempt, fourth in interceptions per attempt and fifth in the red zone.
5. Standard pressure key. Ryan made plays against the Seattle blitz once the Seahawks determined their standard pressure wouldn't suffice without injured defensive end Chris Clemons. Ryan threw a pick the first time Seattle rushed a defensive back, but he then completed 7-of-8 passes for 111 yards and a touchdown when the Seahawks used that tactic subsequently. The 49ers rarely blitz. They probably will not have to take chances if defensive end Justin Smith remains effective after returning from a triceps injury. That could be a key difference for the 49ers.