With a win over the Arizona Cardinals in Week 17, the San Francisco 49ers were able to earn the No. 2 seed in the NFC playoffs. Thanks to the better seeding, they received a much-needed bye during the wild card round and avoided facing the Minnesota Vikings this weekend. Now waiting to face either the Green Bay Packers or the winner between the Washington Redskins and Seattle Seahawks next week, the 49ers will have a tough matchup regardless of who turns out to be their opponent.
While they’re only two games away from making it the Super Bowl, they’re in a solid position thanks to their No. 2 seed. The home team through the NFC playoffs unless they face the Atlanta Falcons in the NFC Championship Game, the 49ers bigger concerns come in the forms of injuries, struggling players and unknown commodities.
Perhaps the biggest injury concern for the entire season, Smith has missed the past two games due to a triceps injury. Recently participating in individual drills at practice on Thursday, it has yet to be determined whether he can play next week with an elbow brace. Arguably the most valuable player on the 49ers defense, Justin Smith’s presence in the interior defensive line will make a huge difference on the play of the linebackers, particularly Aldon Smith.
Akers has certainly not been the same kicker that he was last season. Missing 13 of his 42 attempted field goals this season, his consistency and confidence issues even prompted the team to sign Billy Cundiff in order to compete and push him for kicking duties in the postseason. While Akers will likely still hold his duties as the better of the two kickers, his reliability could have a huge affect on his ability to make kicks and what decisions the team makes on offense on fourth downs.
Despite having very good results in his first eight career starts, Kaepernick is still an unknown commodity with regards to how he’ll perform in the playoffs. While these starts have certainly given him more playing time for these all-important games, will he play well like he did against the New England Patriots in Week 15 or will he struggle with the pressure like he did against the Seattle Seahawks in Week 16. If the 49ers have any chance at going to the Super Bowl, a lot of the team’s success will hinge on their young quarterback.
Austin Chang is a Writer for Sports Out West and a San Francisco Bay Area-based sports journalist. His work can also be found on Yahoo! Sports and Rant Sports. Follow him on Twitter @_austinchang.
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