Will the San Francisco 49ers win their sixth Super Bowl, or will the Baltimore Ravens send Ray Lewis into the sunset with their second Lombardi Trophy?
There won’t be a prediction later in this column, because that’s what everybody does, and you really don’t want to see that again and again. Let’s discuss what each team needs to do to win Super Bowl XLVII.
For the 49ers, they’ll need to stop the Ravens’ passing attack. Baltimore’s will be harder to stop than the Falcons’ air assault last week, which San Francisco did in the second half thanks in part to a pair of mistakes from Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan. Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco has led his team through the playoffs by being flawless, throwing for eight TDs and zero interceptions in three playoff games. He’s throwing for almost 300 yards per game in the playoffs. The 49ers have allowed more than 300 yards passing in both playoff victories.
They’ll have to stop the Ravens’ dynamic receiving duo of Anquan Boldin and Torrey Smith. Boldin has emerged has Baltimore’s go-to receiver in the postseason, with three touchdowns to his name, including two in the AFC Championship against New England.
In three playoff games, the Ravens defense has recorded 146 tackles, 25 passes defended, six sacks, forced four fumbles and returned an interception for a touchdown in addition to leading all playoff teams by allowing just 19 points per game.
No big deal for Colin Kaepernick or the 49ers defense, no? Kaepernick has silenced any doubts about his somewhat controversial rise to starting quarterback status by leading San Francisco to the big game. The defense pitched a shutout of the Falcons in the second half and finished a red-zone stand in the final minutes to get here. What says they can’t stop Flacco and Co. or that Kaepernick can’t throw or run past a Ray Lewis-led defense?
The Ravens offense will have to stop the 49ers elite pass rush of Justin and Aldon Smith. That should be objective No. 1, because there’s no way the San Francisco secondary can stop Boldin or Smith. It couldn’t stop Julio Jones or Roddy White for the entire first half of the NFC Championship until the pass rush came alive in the second half.
Baltimore’s defense will have to have an answer for Colin Kaepernick like Atlanta did to keep him in check. Make him throw the ball to beat you like he beat the Falcons. Don’t let him use his legs to blow you away. They’ll have to anticipate Frank Gore finding holes if they do that, but the Ravens have elite linebackers to counter.
Perhaps the one difference the Ravens have which the 49ers don’t is playoff experience. Lewis has been in a Super Bowl and Flacco has been in the playoffs every year he’s been in the league, along with Harbaugh. That’s a good mix to have, but San Francisco has a quarterback that is inspiring a shift in how teams design offenses in the NFL.
Those things help make this year’s Super Bowl one of the closest to call in ages. It’ll come down to a handful of points, and one Harbaugh brother, John or Jim, will be wondering what they could have done to be in the other’s shoes when the game is over.
Reach Peter Fournier at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/p_fournier.