With the San Francisco 49ers, it starts and ends with defensive football. In many ways, they're the only ones left who played outstanding defense all season long. While the emergence of their future quarterback was apparent in the divisional round, their ball-hawking and butt-kicking defense will be the reason they knock off Atlanta for their first Super Bowl appearance since 1996.
Kaeping off history
One could make the argument no quarterback has ever had as outstanding a performance as 49ers QB Colin Kaepernick did in dismantling the Green Bay Packers in the divisional. If one were so paranoid, he might suggest the plan all along was to insert Kaepernick into the lineup with enough time to get comfortable for the playoffs, then unleash him specifically against Green Bay's run-adverse defensive scheme. If it wasn't planned, it should have been. What's there to make us think Atlanta won't suffer the same fate on a faster track?
Long awaited emergence of Crabtree
49ers WR Michael Crabtree is one of the best all-around receivers in the game. His talent rests more in the lesser observed traits of a receiver, like strength, body control and power, so he doesn't get the recognition many of his high-flying peers do, and playing in a run-oriented offense doesn't help his statistics. Crabtree in the open field though is as tough an assignment as there is for a defensive back in the NFL. He probably has the most pound-for-pound strength of any receiver in the game, and with non-physical cornerbacks like Asante Samuel possibly covering him, it's a good matchup.
The best front seven in football
I've been raving about the skill amassed among San Francisco's defense for long enough, but the movement and coordination among their front seven is amazing. It's the best coached defense in football, and they use their players so creatively, Justin Smith is an All-Pro player at both defensive tackle and end. Aldon Smith benefits from Smith's interior destruction and all of this is bolstered by easily the best pair of inside linebackers in football, Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman.
Really, the best front seven in football
We didn't even mention DT Ray McDonald or LB Ahmad Brooks, both of whom are playing at a high level within the scheme the 49ers have. Atlanta doesn't like to run a whole lot anyway, but on paper it looks as if the Falcons, as talented as they are in the air, will be as one-dimensional as a team can be at this point in the season.
With the depth the Falcons have within their receiving group of Julio Jones, Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez, it takes a physically dominating secondary to slow them up. Even though the Falcons will no doubt get some big plays from those guys, the 49ers secondary is brash, confident and unafraid to tattoo any exposed opponent anywhere on the field. When all you can do is throw, defensive backs can sit back and make plays on the ball, as well as punish those responsible for making catches.