So the Superbowl is upon us once again. This year has been another sensational one in the NFL and the most watched sports event in the world should continue that trend. The 49ers and the Ravens are very well matched. Both have intimidating defenses and Offenses that can score freely given the opportunity.
Here are the key battles that will determine the outcome of this game.
Bryant McKinnie vs Aldon Smith:
Smith has been on a tear this year, his 19.5 sacks were second in the league and even though his form has dipped somewhat in the post-season he will still warrant special consideration if the Ravens are going to succeed in this game. Bryant McKinnie has been brilliant in these playoffs. He is undoubtedly a very gifted left tackle who sometimes isn't as committed as he should be. He has had problems with his weight in the past but I think he may finally realise that this is his final opportunity. He is a mountain of a man with quick feet and he will need to be focused on every play because Smith can burn you at any time.
The success of Aldon Smith will be largely dependent on how Justin Smith performs in-front of him. If Justin Smith can command double teams then it should free up Aldon for a one-on-one shot at McKinnie on a regular basis. Justin Smith has stated this week he has been playing with a partially torn bicep and this has affected his game so he may not require a double-team which would aid McKinnie greatly. McKinnie has to give Joe Flacco time to go through his reads, this will give the Ravens the best chance to win this game.
Ray Lewis vs Frank Gore:
Lewis is playing like a man half his age. He leads all players in tackles during the postseason and has led this team to the promised land. He will have to be at his brilliant best one last time if the Ravens stand any chance of successfully stopping the 49ers offense. Lewis' main task will be attempting to stifle the running game of the 49ers, a daunting task to say the least. This has been an even more troublesome task with the emergence of former Oregon running back LaMichael James and the frightening ability of Colin Kaepernick. However, Frank Gore is still the key component. He will shoulder most of the responsibility and his performance will be a key factor in the outcome of this game.
Gore is a powerful runner who can go between the tackles or to the outside. Lewis, despite his age, can still get sideline-to-sideline and will have to watch Gore closely. The 49ers offensive line has done a tremendous job this season of creating lanes for Gore and his patience to allow plays to develop is a skill few running backs have. If they can establish the running game early in this game then it will allow Kaepernick to use the play-action to his advantage and give himself more time to utilise the weapons he has available to him.
Anquan Boldin vs Carlos Rogers:
Nobody is exactly sure, but if I was to hazard a guess then it will be Carlos Rogers will be the man responsible for trying to contain Boldin. Rogers has had a disappointing year by his very high standards and will need to be at his very best against a resurgent Boldin. He has been instrumental in the Ravens progression to the Superbowl. He has provided Joe Flacco with a reliable target in critical down and distance situations. This is why they paid Boldin so much, because of his ability to be a difference maker in pressure situations. He has amassed 276 yards and 3 touchdowns in the 3 post-season games, including two incredible catches for touchdowns last week in New England against the Patriots.
Rogers will have to anticipate when the ball is coming Boldin's way. Boldin is a powerful man and jamming him at the line of scrimmage to alter his routes will more than likely be unsuccessful. He will have to watch Joe Flacco's movements and make smart decision in terms of his coverage and his reads. He will have studied Flacco's tendancies intently in the film room in order to gain an advantage as to when the ball comes Boldin's way. One thing is for sure, when it is a crucial stage of the game Boldin will be the first person Flacco turns to in a time of need. Rogers will need to be ready for that.
Ed Reed vs Colin Kaepernick:
This could be the most important battle of the day. Colin Kaepernick has been nothing short of phenomenal since he replaced Alex Smith as the 49ers signal-caller. He has a deep ball to die for and his ability to run out of the pocket has made him one of the most feared Quarterback's in the NFL, even after only a handful of starts. His inexperience could be a concern on the biggest stage of all, however nothing we have seen from Kaepernick during this playoff run would suggest that the pressure will get to him. The bigger the game, the better the second-year man out of Nevada seems to play.
Ed Reed is still the best around. He is a certain hall-of-famer and the best chance the Ravens have of stoppiong Kaepernick. Reed's greatest skill is his ability to read Quarterback's and make it look like he's actually reading the Quarterbacks mind. Despite his age he still had 4 interceptions this year. What doesn't show up on the stat sheet is the way he alters how offenses approach the game when Reed is involved. The 49ers have said it's business as usual in terms of their preparation but an inexperienced Quarterback , no matter how good Kaepernick is, Reed will look to take advantage of without question.
Kaepernick will offer something different to anything to Ravens have seen in the playoffs so far this season. Manning, Brady and to a lesser extent Luck are predominantly pocket passers with no real threat to break off a run, Luck aside. This allowed Reed to stay in coverage, something he prefers to do. This week will be much different. Reed will have to come to the line of scrimmage much more often in this game than he ever has before. Kaepernick can not be allowed to break off a big run and the Linebackers will need help from Reed. This will leave them vulnerable to the deep ball to Randy Moss or Michael Crabtree as the Cornerbacks will be in man coverage for most of this game. This is the dilemma Kaepernick gives you, Reed will need all of his veteran savvy if he is to contain the NFL's hottest Quarterback. The fate of the game could depend on this monumental tussle.
This will prove to be an extremely intriguing affair. I am leaning towards a 49ers victory. I feel they have too many weapons on offense and the ageing Ravens defense could have problems containing Colin Kaepernick.
One thing's for sure, you won't be able to take your eyes off it.
Dean Jones: Follow me on Twitter @DeanJones_