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San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick (7) runs against the Carolina Panthers during the second half of a divisional playoff NFL football game, Sunday, Jan. 12, 2014, in Charlotte, N.C. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
Kragthorpe: 49ers having to earn Super Bowl berth on road

Despite low seed, they’re a threat to any opponent.

First Published Jan 14 2014 09:30 am • Last Updated Mar 24 2014 11:34 pm

After falling 5 yards short of a Super Bowl victory last February, the San Francisco 49ers will have traveled nearly 10,000 miles in the playoffs just to give themselves another championship opportunity.

Strong finishes at Green Bay and Carolina have sent San Francisco into Sunday’s NFC title game at Seattle. A look at the 49ers:

At a glance

Editor’s note

Wednesday’s column is the first in a series previewing Sunday’s NFL championship game contestants. Wednesday » the San Francisco 49ers.

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Team’s theme

Even as a wild-card entrant, the 49ers were considered a huge threat in the NFC playoffs and they’ve delivered so far with a fierce defense and an offense that recently is coming to life.

How they got here

The 49ers went 12-4, finishing second in the NFC West and earning a No. 5 seed. They beat Green Bay 23-20 with a last-second field goal and downed Carolina 23-10.

Super Bowl-bound if ...

story continues below
story continues below

San Francisco figures out how to thrive in Seattle, where the 49ers have been overwhelmed each of the past two seasons. A good start would be a big help.

Homeward-bound if ...

Quarterback Colin Kaepernick is erratic, while operating an offense that ranked 24th in the regular season. Seattle’s secondary is very good and the Seahawks’ offense takes advantage of turnovers.

Biggest variable

Now that receiver Michael Crabtree is back in the lineup, Anquan Boldin receives less focus from defenders. He brought attention to himself with his on-field chatter at Carolina, but he also caught eight passes for 136 yards. With anything resembling that production, the former Baltimore receiver can play his way into another Super Bowl.

Best player

Linebacker Patrick Willis is the traditional answer, but teammate NaVorro Bowman may have eclipsed him this season as a first-team All-Pro linebacker. Bowman has made an NFL-high 21 tackles in two playoff games.

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