Football is the ultimate team sport, but the efforts of a few individuals will often make or break a franchise's Super Bowl hopes.
That will be the case this Sunday, when the San Francisco 49ers travel to Atlanta to face the Falcons in the NFC Championship Game. It looks to be an evenly matched game that could come down to the final seconds.
Given the high stakes, both teams will need their most crucial players to step up. While every team member is obviously important, the following players will have a major say in Sunday's results.
Frank Gore—RB, 49ers
Colin Kaepernick got all the headlines, but Frank Gore was incredibly effective against the Green Bay Packers last week.
The bruising back racked up 119 yards and one touchdown on 23 carries. He also added 48 receiving yards on two catches, one of which was a 45-yard gain.
Gore's presence allowed Kaepernick to succeed in the read-option, as the Packers were forced to respect his play-action fakes. He also provided the dagger, punching in a two-yard touchdown to give the 49ers a 14-point lead in the fourth quarter.
With the Falcons likely keying in on Kaepernick, look for Gore to have a big day.
Asante Samuel/Dunta Robinson/Robert McClain—CBs, Falcons
Since the Falcons likely won't shadow Michael Crabtree with the same defensive back, Atlanta's three best corners will have to step up at various points.
The 49ers' best receiver has been unstoppable lately, catching six touchdown passes in his last four games. He's also averaging seven catches and 115.7 yards per game during that span.
The Packers saw firsthand how good Crabtree is last Sunday. He caught nine passes for 119 yards and two touchdowns, both of which came in the second quarter.
Since the Niners line up Crabtree all over the field, Asante Samuel (left side), Dunta Robinson (right side) and Robert McClain (slot) will all have their hands full. If they can contain Crabtree, they will give their team a huge advantage.
Aldon Smith—LB, 49ers
Aldon Smith is listed as probable (shoulder), but the 49ers will need him to be on point this Sunday.
He was one of the best defensive players in the NFL this season, finishing second in the league with 19.5 sacks. However, he hasn't had a sack since Week 14, which not-so-coincidentally was the week Justin Smith got hurt.
Justin Smith is also listed as probable, so he will be able to draw blockers away from Aldon. If Aldon Smith makes the most of his opportunities and disrupts Matt Ryan, the 49ers will likely win.
If he doesn't, Ryan and the high-scoring Falcons will shred San Francisco's defense.