Championship Round team fantasy preview: 49ers
Here is a breakdown of the 49ers from a fantasy perspective heading into their NFC Championship matchup with the Seahawks.
Concerned 49er fans worried that without Michael Crabtree for the majority of the regular season, the passing game in San Francisco would suffer. While the other receivers weren't bad, they were a little schizophrenic at the start of the season. Anquan Boldin came out of the gate hot (13-208-1) in week one, but caught just one pass for seven yards in week two. Vernon Davis' numbers bounced up and down the first half of the season as well.
Then everything seemed to settle into place with Michael Crabtree's return week 13 from a torn Achilles tendon. This season, Crabtree had only one touchdown over seven games, but that doesn't tell the whole story. For example, he played a huge role in the wildcard win against New Orleans with eight catches for 125 yards. When Crabtree is double covered, it means defenses had to shift coverage away from Boldin; not coincidentally, Boldin completed his sixth 1000-yard season (1129) of his eleven-year career. It's also worth noting that the Niners have won every game since Crabtree's return.
The Seahawks' corners typically have the edge, regardless of who lines up across from them. They rank first in turnovers and in pass yards against. While San Francisco needs to establish the run, there will be times when Davis, Crabtree, and Boldin must beat press coverage and pick up key first downs.
Frank Gore once again leads San Francisco's ground attack. While the veteran's yards per carry are a career low (4.1), Gore often comes up big at the right moments. In the final five minutes of the week 14 game against Seattle, Gore broke off a 51-yard run to set up the game winning field goal. Gore did it again in the divisional round last Sunday, when a 31 yard run in the fourth quarter helped put the game away for the 49ers.
His fellow running backs deserve a mention as well. Kendall Hunter, Gore's primary backup, gave the 49ers another 358 yards and four touchdowns this season. The speedy LaMichael James rounds out the 49ers' roster, although he hasn't seen much action this season except as a returner. However, the significant other weapon in the 49ers' running game is under center.
Much like the Seahawks, the 49ers rely on the legs of their dynamic young quarterback to win games. Colin Kaepernick contributed 524 yards on 92 attempts during the regular season. Whether they call a designed quarterback run or he escapes down the sideline on a broken play, Kaepernick seems to contribute rushing yards every game. Although the NFL currently has a lot of effective running quarterbacks, few can change the course of a game like Kaepernick. In last year's playoff game against the Packers, he famously ran for 181 yards and two touchdowns.