MATCHUP TO WATCH: 49ERS RIGHT GUARD ALEX BOONE VS. RAVENS DEFENSIVE TACKLE HALOTI NGATA
The 49ers' offensive line bludgeoned the Packers and tossed aside the Falcons. That unit, however, has a much more imposing adversary today in the Ravens' defense, in particular the 345-pound Ngata. He was unstoppable when the teams met on Thanksgiving in 2011, constantly collapsing Alex Smith's pocket (Smith was sacked nine times) and taking away the 49ers' inside running game. Of course, a lot has changed since last season. At the time, Ngata was matched against a hobbled Adam Snyder and, after Snyder left the game, Chilo Rachal. They have been replaced this season by Boone, who has been excellent in his first year at guard. The 49ers are likely to focus their attack on Ngata as they have other top-flight interior linemen this season, with left guard Mike Iupati, center Jonathan Goodwin and even the tight ends expected to crack down on him at times.
49ers by 4; the over/under is 47 1/2.
49ers: 11-4-1 (2-0)
Ravens: 10-6 (3-0)
ON THE AIR
TV: Ch. 13 (Jim Nantz, play-by-play; Phil Simms, color)
Radio: 680, 1320
Probable: LB NaVorro Bowman (shoulder), LB Ahmad Brooks (shoulder), CB Tarell Brown (shoulder), TE Garrett Celek (foot), S Dashon Goldson (foot), RB Frank Gore (shoulder, ankle), LB Clark Haggans (shoulder), G Mike Iupati (shoulder), RB LaMichael James (finger), RB Bruce Miller (shoulder), LB Aldon Smith (shoulder), DT Justin Smith (elbow, triceps), LB Patrick Willis (shoulder).
Probable: WR Tandon Doss (ankle), LB Dannell Ellerbe (toe, back), CB Asa Jackson (thigh), RB Vonta Leach (knee, ankle), LB Ray Lewis (triceps), LB Albert McClellan (shoulder), DE Pernell McPhee (thigh), DT Haloti Ngata (knee), RB Bernard Pierce (knee, thigh), TE Dennis Pitta (thigh), WR David Reed (thigh), S Ed Reed (shoulder), CB Jimmy Smith (abdomen), LB Terrell Suggs (Achilles', biceps).
BE BOLD AGAINST BOLDIN
Big, physical receivers with soft hands? The 49ers were burned by two of them early in Atlanta, and will face a similar adversary today in Anquan Boldin. The 10-year veteran never has been fleet of foot, but he's big, tough and unafraid to go over the middle, which is where he did damage against the 49ers in 2011.
GO TO GORE TO SCORE
The 49ers were patient with their running game two weeks ago in Atlanta and must be similarly unflappable today. Establishing the run will be hard against a solid Ravens defense. But doing so will be a great help to Colin Kaepernick and the 49ers' defense. Under Jim Harbaugh, San Francisco is 11-2-1 when Gore has 20 or more carries.
IS AKERS WORTH GAMBLE?
David Akers can't be counted on to finish drives. The 49ers must consider going for it on fourth down when they are in Baltimore territory, especially when Akers would have to kick a field goal of 40 yards or more.
CAN BROOKS BREAK LOOSE?
Ahmad Brooks had an excellent NFC Championship Game, and he could be pivotal today as well. Brooks' family is from Louisiana, and he had a huge game when the 49ers visited New Orleans earlier this season. Besides, opponents are likely to focus their attention on fellow linebacker Aldon Smith, as was the case in the two previous playoff games.
GET BALL TO VERNON DAVIS
The Falcons' linebackers were unable to keep up with Vernon Davis in the NFC Championship Game, and the Ravens' linebackers won't be able to, either. Davis has five postseason touchdown catches for the 49ers. One more and he'd move into third place in that category.