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There are four quarterbacks left in the NFL playoffs who have played in the Super Bowl in the last five years, and Colin Kaepernick is one of them.
You know, that line has far less impact than I wanted it to, but I hedged on writing "and Colin Kaepernick is the one with the best chance to get back there."
In fact, he has the worst chance of the four remaining Super Bowl quarterbacks to get back to the big game this year. At the very least, the 49ers quarterback has as tough a task as Drew Brees, as they both will have to face Seattle and Carolina (or each other) to make it to New York. (Note: With the Patriots and Broncos both favored, it will be a lock that Peyton Manning or Tom Brady returns to the Super Bowl if they both win this week.)
Anyway, the point of that line—pre-hedge—was to suggest that Kaepernick is playing at a level right now that has people thinking the 49ers might be the team to beat in the NFC. Even as the fifth seed facing games at Carolina and potentially Seattle, he has the 49ers clicking on offense right now, making it conceivable that San Francisco can make a rather historic run back to the title game.
As more and more weapons returned, we were able to see the Niners offense expand. Last week in the Wild Card Round at Green Bay, Kaepernick was finally able to show he has the stuff to get his team back to the Super Bowl this year.
Of course, that game was against the Packers and a defense with more holes than the foam cheese their fans wear on their heads. Carolina's defense is way better than that.
The Panthers defense, ranked second in the league in scoring and second in rush defense, isn't going to let Kaepernick loose for 98 yards on the ground. If Carolina can keep him in the pocket or at least limit those boundary runs to short inside gains, Kaepernick will have to rely more on his arm than he did last week.
He was rather pedestrian in the passing game in the Wild Card Round, completing 16-of-30 for 227 yards, one score and a pick. But in the fourth quarter, the young dual-threat quarterback was electric, leading San Francisco on two scoring drives to take the lead each time, including the final drive that lasted a full five minutes to end the game.
Again, that's all great against Green Bay. But can he do it against Carolina?
He didn't earlier this year, passing for a putrid 91 yards and rushing for 16 in San Francisco's November 10 home loss to the Panthers. But he didn't have his full arsenal of receivers—namely Michael Crabtree, who has become a security blanket of sorts for the QB.
If any team has the blueprint of how to stop Kaepernick, it is Carolina. But that was during the regular season. Nobody has been able to stop the guy in the playoffs. Even Baltimore couldn't stop him in the Super Bowl last year. The Ravens just had to outscore him.
In his four postseason games, Kaepernick has thrown five touchdowns passes and three interceptions while rushing for another three scores. He is averaging 256 yards in the air and a ridiculous 90.5 yards on the ground, which is buoyed by the 181-yard game in last year's divisional round against Green Bay.
Even without that game, he is averaging 60 yards rushing per game, and in all four playoff contests, he has a per-run average of 11.31 yards.
That's...insane. It's also obviously hard to stop, and as good as Carolina was on defense this year, it might not have enough to stop Kaepernick and a full complement of weapons. I'll be the first to admit that earlier in the year, I wasn't sold on him, thinking he was a bit overrated given how strong San Francisco is in other parts of the game. But he's won me over.
Winning seven straight games and playing the way he did down the stretch will do that.