A torrid and trying NFL season reaches its inevitable climax Sunday night as the powerhouse San Francisco 49ers meet the embattled Baltimore Ravens in Super Bowl XLVII in New Orleans at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
This will be San Francisco’s sixth Super Bowl appearance, and its first since 1995. Baltimore makes its second trip, winning the first in 2001. The 49ers have never lost a Super Bowl.
For the first time in Super Bowl history, two brothers will square off from opposing sidelines, with Baltimore head coach John Harbaugh facing San Francisco head coach Jim Harbaugh.
Still, there are some striking differences between both clubs, especially at quarterback. Baltimore has a more traditional passer in Joe Flacco, while San Francisco's Colin Kaepernick represents the new breed of multi-faceted quarterbacks.
No player has symbolized the Baltimore franchise more than linebacker Ray Lewis, who began these playoffs on the disabled list and with a retirement announcement. The 37-year-old Lewis now leads all players with 44 tackles this post season.
A torn triceps forced Lewis to miss the final 10 games of the regular season, but he returned during Wild Card weekend in the Ravens victory over the Indianapolis Colts. Earlier this week, Lewis was accused of taking a performance-enhancing drug, called deer antler spray, to speed up his recovery time for the playoffs. Lewis denied the allegations, but it provided an unnecessary distraction for the club.
A minor distraction that was definitively squashed by Baltimore owner Steve Bisciotti, was Flacco’s free agent status after the season. The Delaware alum has tossed eight touchdowns and no interceptions, for the best postseason of his five-year career. Flacco’s performance should make him one of the NFL’s highest-paid passers, and Bisciotti said he intends to keep him in Ravens purple.
Baltimore lost four of its last five regular season games, but that appeared to be growing pains as they adjusted to a new system under offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell. The former Colt head coach took over for the fired Cam Cameron, and the Ravens are averaging 30 points per game during the playoffs.
Caldwell might have to re-examine his running schemes for running back Ray Rice to improve on the 3.9 yards per carry he’s put up thus far. Rice fumbled twice against Indianapolis, but tallied 131 yards and a touchdown the following week against the Denver Broncos.
A defense led by Lewis, along with perennial All-Pro safety Ed Reed, has been the staple of the Ravens for more than a decade, but the much older Baltimore must figure out how to stop San Francisco’s firecracker quarterback.
Now in his second season, but with just 10 starts under his belt, Kaepernick has guided the 49ers with 496 total yards and five touchdowns, including a record-setting 181 rushing yards against the Green Bay Packers in the Divisional round. San Francisco has averaged 476 yards and 36.5 points in the playoffs.
Down 24-14 at halftime to Atlanta in the NFC Championship, Kaepernick began the second half with a seven-play 82 yard drive that led to a five-yard touchdown run by running back Frank Gore, and the 49ers never looked back.
Gore finished with 21 carries for 90 yards and two scores, and is averaging 4.8 yards per carry this postseason.
While Gore wound the clock down, the 49ers defense shutout Atlanta’s sixth ranked passing offense in the second half. San Francisco was ranked fourth against the rush and pass during the regular season, with NFL sack leader Aldon Smith terrifying opposing offensive lines. The 23-year-old defensive end notched 19.5 sacks this year, but a shoulder injury has limited his production this postseason. Smith hasn’t recorded a sack since Week 15.
Coverage begins at 6 p.m. EST and will be broadcast by CBS. You can watch their live online stream here.
Betting Odds: San Francisco is favored by 4 points
Over/Under: 48 points
Prediction: Both quarterbacks are on fire, but have completely different styles. Baltimore will have to force Kaepernick to throw, placing most of the pressure on Lewis and fellow linebacker Terrell Suggs to keep him inside the pocket. Rice and Gore should be the determining factors. Gore and Kaepernick should run down the Ravens for the franchise's sixth Super Bowl title.
Predicted Score: San Francisco 34, Baltimore 21