By Zac Bellman
Joe Flacco vs. 49ers’ Secondary
A few months ago, the only guy who considered Joe Flacco among the elite quarterbacks in the league was Joe Flacco. Now he has led his team to a Super Bowl, throwing eight touchdowns and no interceptions thus far in the playoffs. Still he takes a back seat, perhaps because of the fact that over the last decade; the Ravens have been known more for their premier defense than elite quarterback play. In fact, the last time the Ravens won the Super Bowl was with Trent Dilfer leading the offense, and he was deemed expendable and released following that season. Flacco has been playing like a quarterback determined to not only lead his team to victory in Super Bowl XLVII, but establish himself among the top tier of quarterbacks in the league. The 49ers’ will have to be aggressive and not count on Flacco making a mistake, because he has already proven he can outduel elite quarterbacks at the top of their game.
Harbaugh vs. Harbaugh
The more interesting matchup than the one we will see on the field is the one we won’t see, the internal battle in the Harbaugh family of which son to root for. Sure the CBS cameras will be peering into the Harbaugh luxury box more than a few times throughout the game, but we won’t get the whole picture of exactly how awkward it will be when they will feel pride for their Super Bowl Champion and grief for their other son who just lost the biggest game of his life. Whoever wins this game has bragging rights over their brother for the rest of their lives. You can’t really stick it to a sibling more than beating them in a game that over 115 million people will watch in the US and millions more across the world. It’s kind of like beating your brother in a game of Madden that is displayed on the moon.
Bernard Pierce vs. Patrick Willis
Pierce is a change of pace back that broke out in Week 16 and has been tearing it up in the playoffs, rushing for 6.3 yards a carry and serving as a fresh pair of legs for the Ravens run game. He took advantage of the extra carries he got late in the season, rushing for 212 yards on 36 carries over the last two games. It’s a script we have seen play out numerous times before, the franchise back’s legs start to wear out towards the end of the season, and a newcomer bursts onto the scene to take his place. John Harbaugh will ride the hot hand as he has in the first three playoff games, but look for Pierce to get his share and potentially be the guy who steps up and makes a play in a big situation.
Terrell Suggs vs. Read Option/Pistol Formation
After running the read option to no end in the Divisional Round, Colin Kaepernick ran only twice for 21 yards and relied primarily on his proficiency from the pocket to beat the Falcons. Still, the threat of him running or keeping the ball looms large and it will be up to Suggs to help set the edge and not let Kaepernick to escape. The Ravens defensive discipline is better than either of the teams the 49ers have faced as of yet in the playoffs, which will be key because one wrong step can mean a touchdown run for Kaepernick. They also can’t forget about Frank Gore, who can do just as much damage up the middle when he gets the ball.
Colin Kaepernick vs. The Big Stage
The 49ers were 6-2 when they benched Alex Smith, the one-time first-overall pick in the 2005 draft, for Kaepernick. Many questioned the move by Jim Harbaugh considering the team’s record as well as the relative consistency with which Smith was playing. However Harbaugh saw Kaepernick’s raw talent, and for that foresight he is now making the final preparations for a Super Bowl. The transition was less than smooth, with the 49ers tying their first game with Kaepernick under center, and a pick-six on his first possession in the playoffs, but they made it. Kaepernick has displayed an indomitable will throughout this season, but he can’t rest on his laurels. He must carry on a long standing tradition of great 49er QB’s who have thrown for a combined 17 touchdowns and no interceptions in their five Super Bowl victories. It will be interesting to see what type of start Kaepernick gets off to and how that affects his composure as it goes on.
Mike Iupati vs. Haloti Ngata
These two linemen will have much to say about the success or failure of the 49er running game in Super Bowl XLVII. A game like this with two great defenses will surely be won in the trenches on the backs of Mike Iupati and Joe Staley, who will spend most of the game doubling Ngata. Ngata leads the Ravens defensive line in tackles and has a knack for disrupting plays in the backfield with good penetration. He will also help set the weak side edge on read option plays, minimizing the opportunities for the 49ers to pull lineman from his side to block runs to the strong side.
Ravens Kick Coverage vs. LaMichael James
On paper most of the matchups are even or favor the 49ers, but the one phase where the Ravens may have an edge is on special teams. Justin Tucker has been near perfect, and for the 49ers David Akers has been very unreliable at times. The Ravens can’t get lazy on kick coverage like they did against the Broncos in the Divisional Round, when they gave up two kick return touchdowns. A big return can set up an early advantage for the 49ers and really set the tone for the game. Conversely, a stop inside the 20 can send the message that every yard will be a battle.
Ravens fans vs. The Guy sitting on the Couch in the Bud Light Commercial
A few months ago, this commercial was cute. The idea that a guy would return to the spot that he watched the 49ers win Super Bowls before struck a chord with superstitious fans of all 32 teams. It was funny even through the first few weeks of the playoffs, but now Ravens fans have to be a tad concerned that this commercial is still relevant. Even the Visa commercial with the fan giving the pep talk in the 49er locker room is still relevant even though Alex Smith is featured. If that weren’t enough reason for concern, remember the Super Bowl is being played in New Orleans, a city known for its voodoo culture.
49ers vs. Ray Lewis
Aside from the fact that two brothers are playing in the Super Bowl, one of the main storylines this Sunday is that we are seeing Ray Lewis play his last game in the NFL. Arguably the finest middle linebacker to ever play the game, not to mention one of the greatest emotional leaders, pulled one more motivational tactic out of his bag of tricks when he announced his retirement following this season. Several Ravens have come out saying that it’s not all about Ray, that other veterans like Ed Reed and Anquan Boldin that have not won a Super Bowl are motivating them. The heart and soul of this team wears number 52 however, and he is the man who will rally the Ravens to one more victory. Edge: Ravens 24-17