It seemed like a sure bet that the Atlanta Falcons would be the top seed in the NFC. However, their recent struggles put the San Francisco 49ers not far behind, and quarterback Colin Kaepernick will find a way to vault his team over the Atlanta Falcons by season's end.
In Week 14, the 49ers beat the Miami Dolphins with relative ease, 27-13. The team was coming off a disappointing 16-13 overtime loss to the Rams in Week 13, and Kaepernick did his best Alex Smith impersonation completing 18-of-23 passes for 185 yards and no touchdowns in the air.
What Kaepernick adds to this team that gives them a legit shot to be the No. 1 seed in the NFC is a dual-threat nature. In the Miami game, he ran six times for 53 yards and a touchdown.
While Smith wasn't completely immobile in the pocket—134 rushing yards in eight games—Kaepernick has 174 yards and two touchdowns on the ground in just four starts and 351 rushing yards on the year.
Smith had a 104.1 passer rating, before getting injured, but Kaepernick has nearly lived up to that with a 100.3 rating of his own.
The win over the Dolphins moved the 49ers to 9-3-1 this season and in a pretty secure spot with the No. 2 seed. However, they may not have to settle for that this season and could earn home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
The Falcons started the year 8-0, but now stand at 11-2 after their most recent setback, a 30-20 loss to the Carolina Panthers. Despite their record, this team has looked disappointing in several of their wins and they seem to be struggling at the wrong time in the year. With remaining games against the New York Giants, Detroit Lions and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Falcons could easily lose two of three and put their top seed in jeopardy.
If that were to happen, the 49ers would still need to win out. Something they will do behind Colin Kaepernick. In his first four starts, Kaepernick is completing 68.9 percent of his passes for 867 yards and three touchdowns.
The young QB will only get better down the stretch as he becomes more comfortable with his receiving corps. The 49ers close the season at the New England Patriots, at the Seattle Seahawks and against the Arizona Cardinals.
While Smith proved to be flappable in big games, Kaepernick hasn't shown signs that he will crack under the pressure of a big game and make costly turnovers.
He stood the test on national television in his first pro start on Monday Night Football. He's 3-1 as a starter, and performed well in his only loss to the Rams (208 passing yards and 84 rushing yards).
Some quarterbacks play even better under the spotlight, and Kaepernick may just be one of those special guys. He's faced immense pressure to make coach Jim Harbaugh look like he did the right thing in benching Smith, who did nothing wrong. He just got hurt at the wrong time.
There's no reason for Harbaugh to turn back to Smith unless Kaepernick himself gets hurt. Kaepernick gives this team the best chance to run the table in the regular season and capture the No. 1 seed. Smith showed incredible poise in the playoffs last year and for the first half of this year, but he may always be viewed as a potential liability.
Sure he had been great for the first part of the season, but you just get that sense he could have an awful game in a big situation. Colin Kaepernick doesn't give Niners fans that worry.
With three more wins and a few Atlanta slip-ups, Kaepernick may further cement his status as the franchise guy for the 49ers.
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