One round of NFL playoff picks stands between four teams and the Super Bowl.
The New England Patriots will take on the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC Championship while the Atlanta Falcons face off against the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship. Each is deserving, but only the two that’ll overcome their greatest obstacle will advance past the conference title.
Here are the highest hurdles the remaining clubs must conquer to earn a Super Bowl berth.
Greatest Obstacle: Colin Kaepernick
Atlanta, as a franchise, is familiar with freak-athlete quarterbacks (see: Michael Vick). But nothing has prepared it for the weapon pointed in its direction.
Kaepernick showed just how unstoppable an offense can be when generalled by a QB who’s capable of slicing up a stop unit with his arm and legs. He racked up 444 yards from scrimmage and four touchdowns against the Green Bay Packers on Saturday.
The last time the Falcons did face a talent like Kaepernick, Cam Newton embarrassed them compiling 403 yards and three touchdowns.
San Francisco 49ers
Greatest Obstacle: Colin Kaepernick’s Inexperience
Kaepernick was the greatest x-factor in the entire postseason to begin with because no one can carry a team to victory or defeat like him. San Francisco is undefeated when he finishes with a passer rating above 90.0. And it hasn’t won a game when he’s dipped below the mark.
The second-year passer was able to bounce back from an early Sam Shields pick-six in the divisional round. But a mistake or two like that against a more talented Atlanta team will be the 49ers’ undoing.
New England Patriots
Greatest Obstacle: Ray Lewis’ Mouth
After failing to impress in the regular season, Baltimore blew out the Indianapolis Colts by the score of 24-9 and shocked the Super Bowl-favorite Denver Broncos 38-35 in overtime. I credit Sugar Ray’s mouth.
The legendary linebacker has always been a master motivator. But it wouldn’t be surprising if his announcement to retire at season’s end has helped the Ravens flip the switch and turn into arguably the league’s most dominant team.
New England is the more talented team. But it must show up at Foxborough equally fired up next week.
Greatest Obstacle: Drops
Last year it was Lee Evans. This year, it was nearly late drops by Jacoby Jones and Dennis Pitta that cost Baltimore.
Joe Flacco has played phenomenally. But with Anquan Boldin being the only Ravens’ receiver with big-game experience (at least at the conference championship level), their passing attack is still a question mark.
They’ll have opportunities to make splash plays against the Pats’ mediocre secondary and when Flacco puts it on the money, Baltimore must hang onto the football.
David Daniels is a featured columnist at Bleacher Report and a syndicated writer.