Equipped with air-tight defenses, playmaking quarterbacks, power run games and a set of brothers as head coaches, the San Francisco 49ers and Baltimore Ravens are virtual mirrors of one another. Both teams would rather pound their opponent into submission than play a finesse game. So when both teams kick off in Super Bowl XLVII on Feb. 3, expect the NFL championship to be a rough, physical and downright filthy grudge match.
It's rare that both runner ups from the previous season's final four teams make the Super Bowl the following season, but the Ravens and Niners find themselves in that unique situation. With so many story lines circling the battlefield, expect the actual game to be just one critical part of a large affair. So who'll win it all: the Ravens or the Niners? Perry Green and Stephen D. Riley of the AFRO Sports Desk debate the question.
Riley: The San Francisco 49ers have been the most impressive team in this postseason so far. The dimension that Colin Kaepernick gives this team on offense has turned a traditional West Coast style passing attack into a power running, physical and bullying squad. Add in their defense and special teams play, and San Francisco appears primed to tie the Pittsburgh Steelers with six championships, the most for any franchise. We talked about the read option skills of Robert Griffin III, Cam Newton and Russell Wilson all year long, but Kaepernick might be running that design better than all of them right now. He tore apart the Green Bay Packers defense with 181 rushing yards and four total touchdowns in the semifinals. He's on a mission and I'll run with the 49ers as long as Kaepernick is running the ball.
Green: When it comes to opposing quarterbacks, Baltimore has successfully squared off against Andrew Luck, Peyton Manning and Tom Brady so far this postseason: two Hall of Fame signal callers and the top overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft. So excuse me if I don't get star-struck hearing about another team's signal caller. Kaepernick still has a lot to prove to me—although he's been impressive, we're still waiting on Joe Flacco to throw an interception this postseason. Flacco has lived up to the billing this year and outperformed his opponents. The receivers have made plays and the defense, led by the retiring Ray Lewis, has been exceptional. Once Flacco found a streaking Jacoby Jones for an improbable 70-yarder to tie the game against Denver, you just knew this team had some destiny behind it. The Ravens will win in a blowout.
Riley: I just can't see that luck playing out against probably the most talented team in the league. San Francisco has playmakers at every level, whether it's offense, defense or special teams. That defense is going to challenge Flacco and his receivers to make plays and, with the way they rough up passers (see Matt Ryan and Aaron Rodgers), Flacco is going to need another A-plus game for Baltimore to even hang close. Once Kaepernick gets rolling, it could be a long day for that aging defense.
Green: Aging, yes, but keep in mind they're still making plays all over the field. I agree, the 49ers present a whale of a challenge for Baltimore. The speed on that team is scary but I just can't stress enough how destined this Ravens team seems. To go on the road in back-to-back weeks and take out Manning and Brady just a few weeks after Lewis announces he's retiring is too impressive to me. Baltimore has simply found ways to win all season, whether it's Flacco connecting for 70 yards to keep the game alive in the playoffs or Ray Rice converting a 4th and 29 in a key regular season win, this team just has something special about it. The big, bad 49ers seem opposing, but don't just wipe out the Ravens chances.
Riley: Of course not, but you can’t deny this 49ers team. Don’t underestimate the 16-6 Ravens’ win over the Niners on Thanksgiving in 2011. San Francisco can easily go back to the tape and review their gaffes. For the most part, the Ravens are the same team from that game. But with Kaepernick calling the shots now, San Francisco is basically a new offense that the Ravens haven’t seen. This is going to be a fight; I just think the 49ers have all the advantages.
Green: That’s why they play the game. Baltimore has just been finding ways to win all season and I wouldn’t be surprised if they find another way to blow this game wide open. Even if it’s not a blowout, this team knows how to win close games too. Don’t underestimate experience in this clash, either. The Niners are a fairly young team while several members of the Ravens have numerous postseasons and regular seasons behind them. This stage isn’t too big for them. I look for Baltimore to find a way. I can’t say how, but I can say I’ve seen them do it before.