• Joe Flacco
  • Baltimore Ravens
  • Ravens 28, Patriots 13
  • 21-for-36, 240 YD, 3 TD, 0 INT
  • Watch Highlights
  • Colin Kaepernick
  • San Francisco 49ers
  • 49ers 28, Falcons 24
  • 16-for-21, 233 YD, 1 TD, 0 INT
  • Watch Highlights

The Pregame Pressure

Joe Flacco did wonders for his reputation in the Baltimore Ravens' double-overtime win over the Denver Broncos in the divisional round of the playoffs, solidifying his standing as a proven postseason performer while building his status as Master Of The Deep Ball. (Broncos defender Rahim Moore can attest to that second part.) All that goodwill would have been tempered if Flacco couldn't get over the hump against the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship Game. Despite outplaying Tom Brady in last season's AFC title matchup, Flacco and the Ravens lost. This time, he had to find a way to take the next step.

Colin Kaepernick set the bar impossibly high after a dynamic divisional-round performance against the Green Bay Packers, producing four total touchdowns and 181 rushing yards -- the latter mark representing an NFL record at his position. Kaepernick had already made coach Jim Harbaugh look like a genius for starting him over Alex Smith, but an electric sophomore season would have been somewhat muted if he had imploded in the NFC Championship Game on Sunday. Remember, the San Francisco 49ers went to that game last season. Losing again would not have represented progress.

The In-Game Performance

After a slow start in the first half, Flacco and the Ravens heated up, ripping off 21 unanswered points in a 28-13 win over the Patriots. Flacco was again on target and played mistake-free, finishing 21-of-36 for 240 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. The throws he made weren't easy, either; many were in tight spaces in and around the red zone. Through three playoff wins, Flacco has thrown eight touchdown passes without an interception. With play like that from the quarterback, it's no wonder the Ravens are headed to the Super Bowl.

Kaepernick wasn't a human highlight reel this time around, but we shouldn't sell his performance short. Despite being in a loud, hostile environment, Kaepernick played like a quarterback with much more experience than he has, completing 16 of 21 passes for 233 yards and a touchdown in a 28-24 win over the Atlanta Falcons. His passer rating of 127.7 was higher than that of any other signal-caller on Championship Sunday. Kaepernick wasn't given the opportunity to wreck Atlanta with his legs, which makes his performance all the more impressive. He is far from a one-dimensional quarterback.

The Post-Game Pick

When Kaepernick steps on the field at Super Bowl XLVII, he'll be making his 10th career NFL start. Think about how insanely impressive that is. Kaepernick is in complete control of the Niners' offense, and proved at the Georgia Dome that no moment is too big for him. But I like what Flacco did on Sunday even more. A week after outplaying Peyton Manning at Mile High, Flacco outplayed Tom Brady at Gillette. Watching Flacco these past three weeks, it's impossible not to think about Eli Manning's rise with the New York Giants in early 2008. -- Dan Hanzus