This year’s Super Bowl teams have many similarities; they both have solid running games, strong quarterbacks and an aggressive hard hitting defense. One can almost say the Ravens and 49ers are brothers. Of course it comes from their coaches the Harbaugh brothers, John Harbaugh who coaches the Ravens is more accommodating and open to the press, while Jim Harbaugh of the 49ers has more hard edges and can come off as arrogant and aloof. However, both are fine coaches and likely to be at the big game again somewhere down the line.
Jim Harbaugh has done it on multiple levels, first reawaking the Stanford football program and than reviving the 49ers. In just two seasons in San Francisco, Jim has made the Niners relevant again, ending a nearly decade long playoff drought and getting his team to the Conference Championship in each of his first two seasons. Jim Harbaugh is a bold coach who is not afraid to roll the dice, and when he benched Alex Smith in favor of Colin Kaepernick many thought it was the wrong decision. However, Kaepernick has add an extra element to the 49ers offense and become one of the NFL’s rising stars with his powerful running and solid passing to bring the 49ers back to the big game for the first time since 1994.
John Harbaugh meanwhile, is steady and consistent, bringing the Ravens to the playoffs in each of his first five years in Baltimore. Not only that he has won a playoff game in each of his first five years as coach, something that had been done before. Attached at the hip is Joe Flacco, who was a rookie quarterback in 2008 the same time Harbaugh began his career, and he has been the first quarterback to win at least one playoff game in each of his first five seasons. Even when the Ravens lost in years past the games have typically been close, and all four teams that eliminated the Ravens in the Harbaugh/Flacco era went on to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl.
Besides it taking longer to break through and reach the Super Bowl, the Ravens have a greater sense of urgency to win this year, as Ray Lewis has already announced his retirement and it is possible that Ed Reed may also be playing his final game on Sunday in New Orleans. Lewis and Reed are among the best defensive players in the last decade and will one day grace the halls of Canton. Replacing them will be tough and will make it doubtful the Ravens will return to the big game next season. So there is some extra pressure on the Ravens for this reason.
While Colin Kaepernick has thrilled at quarterback, Joe Flacco quietly has had a big postseason himself as his performance in Denver may one day become the most memorable moment of his career, as his 70 yard pass to tie the game, silenced the critics who have doubted his ability. Flacco is a strong quarterback who knows how to win the big game, and while Kaepernick is off to a great start he has still made less than ten starts in the NFL, and when that spotlight turns up the heat in the fourth quarter, I rather have Joe Flacco trying to win the game late at this stage of his career.
Overall the 49ers may be the better team, their defense is just as good if not better than the Ravens, and Frank Gore and Ray Lewis are just about even at running back. Led by Torre Smith I give the Ravens the edge in the receivers, while the struggles of David Akers also give the edger to Baltimore in the kicking game.
The NFL is a different sport than it was the last time the 49ers were in the Super Bowl, back than the best team always won and won easily. However, with parody and teams being even matched, the Super Bowl has turned into a yearly thrill ride, decided in the final minutes. All these play to the favor of the Ravens.
What is most important is being the hot team, like the Giants last year and the Packers the year before the hot team has become the team standing at the end. This year the Ravens are that team, as the retirement announcement of Ray Lewis has helped them dig deep and find another level of play. Lewis has long been the emotional leader for the Ravens and it is hard to imagine the Ravens suffering a Super Bowl let down. The game will be close but in the end the extra motivation, pressure and the play of Joe Flacco will be the difference as the Ravens bringing home another Lombardi Trophy, with Flacco finally getting his due as Super Bowl MVP.