Although he's untested in the postseason, this Saturday will be the moment second-year star Colin Kaepernick becomes an elite quarterback.
The playoffs could be rather fortuitous for Kaepernick, as it was this time last year that Alex Smith made all his detractors eat their words with a phenomenal performance against the New Orleans Saints in the Divisional Round.
After Kaepernick started in place of the injured Smith in Week 11, some 49ers fans were wondering if he should be the preferred option in the event Smith came back to health. Over his seven starts, Kaepernick has made fans forget all about the veteran QB.
With his performance in this year's playoffs, Kaepernick may even make the 49ers thankful they didn't sign Peyton Manning.
Chris Mortensen and Adam Schefter of ESPN reported before the season started that San Francisco was in the hunt to sign the veteran QB.
This is not to say that Kaepernick will reach a similar level, but history could look upon that moment Smith went down the same way the hit that injured Drew Bledsoe, allowing Tom Brady to take over, has been immortalized.
According to Steve Corkran of the San Jose Mercury News, Jim Harbaugh can't stop gushing about Kaepernick's preparation for the game. Corkran wrote:
Coach Jim Harbaugh said second-year quarterback Colin Kaepernick has been "savant-like" in his grasping of the game plan for the 49ers playoff game against the Green Bay Packers.
On Wednesday, Harbaugh raved some more about how well Kaepernick is handling himself as he prepares for his first playoff game, Saturday night at Candlestick Park.
"It's been extremely good," Harbaugh said Wednesday. "He's progressing very well, he's very on it. The focus has been very good."
The Packers are a tough matchup for Kaepernick. Green Bay's pass defense only surrendered 218 yards a game, 11th during the regular season.
On the other hand, the Packers' 17th-ranked run defense might have a hard time stopping Frank Gore. If he can get going, Green Bay is going to start creeping up, allowing Kaepernick to beat them over the top.
The QB's game is favorable for a player who has no experience in the postseason.
Kaepernick, and the 49ers offense in general, isn't built to air the ball out and throw for 400 yards a game. He's done a very good job at completing his passes and minimizing mistakes.
Over the course of the season, Kaepernick completed 62.4 percent of his passes and threw 10 touchdowns to just three interceptions.
His running ability could also be an X factor, as evidenced in the 49ers' 27-13 win over the Miami Dolphins during the regular season. Kaepernick ran for a 50-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter to put the game out of reach.
He isn't at a Robert Griffin III-type level, but he has enough skill to get away from pressure. If a defender thinks for a split-second that he could tuck the ball and run, that's more time Kaepernick has time to wait for an open receiver.
The game is shaping up to be Kaepernick's biggest showcase of the year. The Divisional Round is when he will fully reward Harbaugh for the faith the coach has shown in the QB all season.