SANTA CLARA — As the 49ers prepare for a playoff schedule that coach Jim Harbaugh dubs "three Super Bowls," one of the first orders of business is to gauge their newfound kicker competition.

Billy Cundiff signed Tuesday and will compete with incumbent David Akers for the right to kick in the 49ers' Jan. 12 playoff opener in the NFC's divisional round.

"It could be settled early next week but I'm not going to put a timeframe on it," Harbaugh said Wednesday on KNBR 680-AM. "We'll practice Thursday, Friday and then we'll see if a decision is made, or if it goes into Monday, Tuesday, or after. But there's no timeline on it."

Akers has been apprised of the situation and Harbaugh cited "a lot of evidence" for Akers' potential to win the competition and thrive in the postseason. As for Cundiff's hiring, Harbaugh said it was based on his overall history rather than just his link to having played for John Harbaugh's Baltimore Ravens.

Cundiff's last postseason field-goal attempt prevented the Ravens from tying the New England Patriots in last season's AFC Championship Game. A year later, the 49ers are one win shy of their second straight NFC Championship Game.

"We'll look at it as three Super Bowls that we have to play and win," Harbaugh said. "That's just extremely fun to think about that and the excitement of that, because it's so immediate, it's so now. It's not like the beginning of the season when you're thinking of long-term plans and having to keep guys healthy for the stretch run."

The second-seeded 49ers (11-4-1) will practice Thursday and Friday for the first time during their bye week.

Being idle this weekend could prove especially beneficial to Justin Smith's recovery from a Dec. 16 triceps injury. "From talking to Justin, it's improved every single week, and 'hopeful' is how we would classify him of playing in that (opener)," Harbaugh said.

With no sacks in the last three games, Aldon Smith didn't build on his franchise-record 19 ½ sacks, and the bye week afforded him much-needed down time.

"From watching the tape, he's somebody that can use it, someone that needs it," Harbaugh said of his second-year sack phenom.

Film of Sunday's 27-13 win over the Arizona Cardinals also revealed to Harbaugh just how exceptional Colin Kaepernick and Michael Crabtree performed. Crabtree accounted for 172 of Colin Kaepernick's 276 passing yards and both touchdown throws.

"He did a tremendous job getting open in several different ways: beating his man at the line of scrimmage in press coverage, creating separation downfield, made the incredible one-handed catch, the run after the catch," Harbaugh said. "Colin was putting the ball in four of those cases in the only place it could have been."

Watching Stanford win the Rose Bowl on Tuesday also gave Harbaugh a thrill, and fondly recounted how he sat in some of those Stanford players' living rooms while recruiting them in his days as the Cardinal's coach.

"You feel the great thrill of winning for them," Harbaugh added. "You see it on their faces and all the hard work that's gone in to put them to this position, and the assistant coaches that have done such a tremendous job.

"Congratulations to the whole Stanford community. Great way to start the new year."

For more on the 49ers, see Cam Inman's Hot Read blog at blogs.mercurynews.com/49ers. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/CamInman.