It's been a while since you read that headline, but with the most important game of the season on the horizon, it's prudent to look at some of the key stories heading in to the game.
The way their seasons ended, it's a matchup that many did not expect. Most can look at the San Francisco 49ers and say that they thought that might be a team that reached the Super Bowl. Since Colin Kaepernick was inserted to the starting lineup, the 49ers have been 5-2-1, with one of their losses coming in overtime. Along the way, Kaepernick posted wins over Chicago, New Orleans and New England.
As for the Baltimore Ravens, well, they seemed to be the walking dead heading in to the playoffs. After starting the season 9-2, the Ravens went on to lose four of their last five contests. Much like the 2008 Arizona Cardinals (who lost four of their last six regular season games), the Ravens picked the perfect time to recapture their best football. The Ravens just hope their fortunes are better than the Cardinals in the big game.
Let's take a look at five things to watch for in Super Bowl XLVII:
1) Kaepernick hits the big stage
- If you followed along during the 2011 NFL Draft, you'll know I've been a huge Kaepernick supporter since doing my draft research before that specific year. With such a unique blend of talent, some around the league are wondering when it will be that teams finally figure the second-year quarterback out. The mere threat of the read-option leaves teams paralyzed, which opens up the passing attack for San Francisco. With Kaepernick, it's essentially pick your poison. Either make him throw his 94 mile per hour fastball, or turn him in to a gazelle with his 4.53 40-yard dash speed. Either way the Ravens, like every team Kaepernick has gone up against, has their hands full.
2) Beware the Baltimore deep ball
- One of the most important parts to Baltimore's game on offense is hitting the deep ball. Quarterback Joe Flacco has the range and touch to hit a few of them every game. If they do against the San Francisco cornerbacks, that could open things right up for the Ravens to sneak in and get the victory. Wideout Torrey Smith, who is physically gifted in getting down the field in a hurry, will be one of the most important pieces to Baltimore's claim to win this year's version of the Super Bowl.
3) Buffalo native will be tested
- If you visited WGR550.com yesterday, you saw a piece regarding Buffalo's connections to this year's Super Bowl. One of which is Ravens cornerback Corey Graham (a Turner Carroll High School graduate), who has been catapulted in to the starting lineup due to a rash of injuries at the position. Both he and Cary Williams, cast-offs of their former teams, will be tested in a very large way. Michael Crabtree is fulfilling the potential he had when he was selected in the top 10, and Randy Moss is still Randy Moss. The 49ers will look to exploit those matchups every way they can.
4) A complete defense?
- The way the last postseason went for the San Francisco 49ers and how their defense played, you could tell they were just missing one piece to the puzzle to make it to the Super Bowl. The 49ers seemed to have find it in Kaepernick, and now the defense is firing on all cylinders once again. Led by Justin Smith, Aldon Smith, Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman, the 49ers have what many consider to be the top front-seven in the NFL. The only question is in their secondary. Cornerback Carlos Rogers and safety Dashon Goldson have proven themselves, but as Bills fans know the normally-solid Donte Whitner can throw up a few clunkers from time to time. Attacking Whitner and the other cornerbacks of San Francisco may be Baltimore's only hope.
5) Special Teams may loom large
- The game boasts two of the top returners in the NFL in my opinion, and two that can change the course of a game with a single juke or cut up the field. San Francisco's Ted Ginn, Jr. and Baltimore's Jacoby Jones each have had their share of big returns throughout their careers. In a game where the two combatants are normally on par with one another, a big return can escalate in to the jump ahead a single team needed. Needless to say, fans of both the Ravens and 49ers will be holding their breath when the opponent's returners hit the field.
Prediction: 49ers over Ravens
- If you look up and down the rosters, San Francisco has the more talented group throughout. In individual matchups, I think the defensive line is better than Baltimore's offensive line. I believe San Francisco's offensive line, while conceding some plays to the ravenous Haloti Ngata, will get the better of the Baltimore front seven in both run blocking and pass protection. I also favor the 49ers wide receivers over the Ravens cornerbacks. The biggest question for the 49ers will be to stop the deep ball of Baltimore. If they can, I think Kaepernick and company will hoist the Lombardi Trophy as Super Bowl XLVII champions.