New Orleans (Sports Network) - The Brothers Harbaugh are getting ready forthe culmination of one of the biggest sibling rivalries of all-time in SuperBowl XLVII when John's Baltimore Ravens take on Jim's San Francisco 49ers atthe New Orleans Superdome.
But, this isn't Peter and Bobby Brady splitting the room down the middle withsome masking tape. This is a good-natured clash between two brothers who havegrown into a pair of the best football coaches in the world.
The game will mark the first time in any of the four major North Americanprofessional sports that brothers will match up against one another as headcoaches in a postseason game.
"I guess it's pretty neat," said John Harbaugh, who has eight postseason winsin his five seasons with the Ravens, a number which matches former Raidersmentor Tom Flores for the most since the 1970 NFL-AFL merger.
"It's pretty cool. But it's really about the team. It's about the players.That's what it's about. It's about those guys. The more we focus on thoseguys, the better it is for everybody."
Perhaps, but the focus remains on the Harbaughs.
Maybe the upcoming Harbowl is so intriguing to the American people because welack leadership on many levels. Real leaders make tough decisions, popular ornot, and respect is earned when they show the courage of their convictions.
Both Jim and John Harbaugh have proven themselves as leaders in the 2012 NFLseason.
Neither the Niners nor the Ravens would be getting ready for the Super Bowlin the Bayou unless each Harbaugh brother didn't pull the trigger on anextremely difficult and controversial season-altering decision.
In Jim Harbaugh's case, he made the high-profile move from game manager AlexSmith to the dynamic Colin Kaepernick at the quarterback position, not exactlya no-brainer since Smith took the 49ers to the NFC title game after the 2011season and had San Francisco at 7-2-1 with one of the best touchdown-to-interception ratios in the game before suffering a concussion against the St.Louis Rams in Week 10 of the 2012 campaign.
Harbaugh, who sees Smith and Kaepernick on a daily basis, far more than therest of us, felt the second-year pro from Nevada gave him the best chance towin the big game and after Colin rallied San Francisco from a 17-point deficitin Atlanta during the NFC Championship Game -- something the far-lessexplosive Smith could have never done -- it's hard to argue with the Ninersmentor.
Although not as captivating, Jim's older brother had his own season-definingmoment with the Ravens.
Despite his team's 9-4 record and spot atop the AFC North, John Harbaugh firedhis offensive coordinator, Cam Cameron, and elevated quarterbacks coach JimCaldwell, the former head man in Indianapolis, to the position after Week 14.
From the outside looking in, it seemed like a panic move and not the type ofthing you do to a first-place club, but Cameron had been roundly criticizedfor his handing of quarterback Joe Flacco and running back Ray Rice.
The change looked suspect early.
Caldwell replaced Cameron before a Week 15 contest in Denver, a game in whichthe Ravens struggled mightily, especially early with five straight three-and-outs en route to a 34-17 shellacking at the hands of the Broncos.
Since then, though, the Ravens offense has turned it on, first putting up 533yards against the New York Giants in Week 16. After resting players in theregular season finale at Cincinnati, Baltimore rung up a franchise postseasonrecord 441 yards in the first round of the playoffs against the Colts.
The Ravens then won the sequel in Denver by hanging up 38 points the Broncosbefore destroying New England in the second half during a 28-13 win in the AFCChampionship Game at Foxboro.
"We haven't changed a lot," Baltimore's Harbaugh said. "It's still the samesystem that we had in place. We call things the same way. Everybody puts theirimprint on it, and Jim's done a great job with that. We have grown a lot inthe last month. There's been some growth, and it has shown up in stats andthings like that, and that's a credit to all of our guys, not the least ofwhich, obviously, is coach Caldwell."
The 49ers (5-0) and Ravens (1-0) are a combined 6-0 in the Super Bowl. SanFrancisco won Super Bowls XVI, XIX, XXIII, XXIV and XXIX while Baltimore tookSuper Bowl XXXV.
This marks the 49ers' first big game appearance since the 1994 season and theRavens' first return trip since the 2000 season.
"It's an unbelievable feeling to be in the Super Bowl," said 49ers Pro Bowllinebacker Patrick Willis, who leads his team with 19 tackles in thepostseason. "I'm really grateful for this."
The Ravens are 3-1 all-tine versus the Niners and John is 1-0 against Jim,winning the first Harbowl, 16-6 on Thanksgiving Day in 2011.
That one marked the first time head coaching brothers battled each other inthe NFL. Flacco connected with tight end Dennis Pitta for a game-winning TD inthe fourth quarter while the Baltimore defense limited the 49ers to 170 totalyards to get John the win over Jim.
The sequel will take place in front of 100 million or so of the Harbaughs'closest friends.
"Anybody who has a brother, especially one that's close in age, gets it," Johnsaid. "You just grow up fighting for everything. You fight for the extrahotdog. You fight for girls. You fight for everything. We both got our girls,but we both want a victory this week."
QUARTERBACKS: The underrated Flacco has thrown eight touchdown passes and nointerceptions with a 114.7 passer rating so far in this postseason. The onlysignal-callers in NFL history to finish a full postseason with at least ninetouchdown passes and no interceptions are both former 49ers, Steve Young afterthe 1994 season, and Joe Montana, who threw 11 touchdown passes and nointerceptions in the playoffs after the 1989 season.
Flacco also set a single-season career high in passing yards with 3,817 yardsduring the regular season, while connecting on 40 completions of 25-or-moreyards, which set a Ravens' season record and led the NFL.
The win in the AFC Championship Game at New England marked Flacco's sixth roadplayoff victory, the most in NFL history. His eight postseason wins overallare tied with Ben Roethlisberger for the second-most in a quarterback's firstfive NFL seasons, trailing only Tom Brady (nine).
Under Caldwell, who agreed to come back as Baltimore' offensive coordinatorfor the 2013 season, the Ravens have stitched together a Daryle Lamonica- orJim Plunkett-type Raiders offense designed to stretch the field and getvertical during a dink-and-dunk era.
"This is just one of those things you dream of when you are a little kid,"said Flacco about advancing to the Super Bowl. "You watch Joe Montana andthose guys in the Super Bowl. So to be here at this point is pretty special."
Kaepernick, meanwhile, has compiled a passer rating near 100.0 while amassinga 7-2 mark as the 49ers starter since taking over for Smith. In thepostseason, he has a a 105.9 passer rating and has rushed for 202 yards. Noplayer has ever posted a 100-plus passer rating and rushed for at least 200yards in a single postseason.
For the opposition it's all about forcing the strong-armed Kaepernick toread the defense and make the proper progressions in the passing game. He'smost dangerous when the running game is hitting on all cylinders, opening upeasy play-action reads.
"When I first started starting, I was just trying to do well and make sure wewere winning games," Kaepernick said. "Things have gone right while we havebeen playing. We're here."
Smith, if his mind is right, would have to be regarded as the best caddy inthe business. Baltimore's backup, Tyrod Taylor, is largely untested.
RUNNING BACKS: A strong running game opens up that play-action for Flacco, whothrows one of the best deep balls in the NFL. Rice is the bell cow, totaling1,621 yards from scrimmage, the NFL's ninth most. He was one of three playersto post 1,000 rushing yards and 400 receiving yards.
Rice ranked second in the NFL in catches by a RB (61) and fourth in receivingyards (478), marking his fourth straight season with at least 1,600 yards fromscrimmage. Dating back to 2009, Rice owns an NFL-high 7,506 total yards fromscrimmage (5,066 rushing & 2,440 receiving), including a league-best 39 gameswhere he's gained 100-or-more total yards.
Rice has also got help this time around with rookie Bernard Pierce, who ranfor 532 yards as a team-leading 4.9 yards per carry, giving the Ravens a nicecompliment.
"It all comes down to execution, and that's what it's going to be all about onSunday," Rice said. "Whatever the team executes, whoever goes out there andplays a more physical game and executes at a high level (is going to win)."
Over the course of his eight-year career, Frank Gore has been the go-to guy inthe backfield for the 49ers. Gore has been more than productive after beingselected in the third round of the 2005 NFL Draft and his productivity sincethat time has allowed him to become the franchise's all-time leading rusher.In 2012 Gore ran for over 1,200 yards and is getting more comfortable with theread-option after struggling at first when Kaepernick took over.
The Niners were lacking a compliment to Gore after Kendall Hunter went downwith an ankle injury but the small and speedy LaMmichael James, who is well-versed in the read-option attack from his time in college at Oregon, is now amuch bigger threat with Kaepernick playing in the pistol. In fact, James'speed makes things much tougher on the edge for the opposition.
"They have a physical defense, but we also have a physical offense," Goresaid. "We're just going to keep chipping away, do whatever it takes, like wedid all year to get where we're at. (We have to) take those three to four tofive (opportunities) -- when we get opportunities to make big plays, we'regoing to make them."
At fullback both have good ones. Baltimore's Vonta Leach is the best lead-isolation guy in the business, while the Niners' Bruce Miller is a capablelead blocker and a little more nifty with his feet.
WIDE RECEIVERS: Anquan Boldin has been a beast in the postseason for theRavens, snaring 16 catches for 276 yards and three TDs, averaging 17.3 yardsper catch and 92.0 yards per game. Since becoming a Raven in 2010, Boldin hastotaled the NFL's most playoff receiving yards (512) and is deadlocked withNiners tight end Vernon Davis for the most receiving TDs (five) over the lastthree years of postseason play.
Meanwhile, Torrey Smith is one of the top vertical threats in the league,ranking fourth in the NFL with a 17.4 yards per catch average, posting acareer-high 855 yards on 49 receptions. Fleet-footed return specialist JacobyJones is the third option for Flacco and another big play threat, albeit farless consistent.
For Frisco Randy Moss is just a bit player these days and the veteran willwant to take advantage of what is probably his last opportunity to win a SuperBowl. Moss was ever so close in Minnesota in 1998 and New England in 2007 butultimately came up short. Hall of Fame numbers like 155 career receivingtouchdowns and 76 receptions of 40 yards-plus turned into 28 catches and justtwo scores in the Bay Area this season but the rangy receiver is still athreat, especially in the red zone.
"Randy is going to be a Hall-of-Fame player, and he is someone who deserves aSuper Bowl ring," Kaepernick said. "We want to send him out the right way."
Michael Crabtree is the No.1 outside the numbers threat for Kaepernick and hewill be playing with a clear mind on Sunday after prosecutors announced thatcriminal charges won't be filed against Crabtree after an alleged sexualassault in a hotel after the team's playoff victory over the Packers earlierthis postseason. Crabtree was never detained or arrested in the matter, and hecooperated fully with their investigation but it had to be weighing on him.
Crabtree became a greater focal point of the offense following Kaepernick'sascension to the starting QB position, and recorded a career-high 85receptions for 1,105 yards and nine TDs in 2012
Depth is sorely lacking without the injured Kyle Williams (torn ACL). Ted Ginnis just a return guy at this point and A.J. Jenkins and Chad Hall are notgoing to scare anyone.
TIGHT ENDS: Pitta posted career highs of 61 catches and 669 receiving yardsand seven TDs and has a knack for finding the soft spot in a zone. He isn'tthe best blocker in the world, however, leaving that for Ed Dickson, who isbasically just an outlet receiver in the passing game. Veteran Billy Bajema isalso around to move the pile in the running game.
"Ed and I work well together," Pitta said. "I think we both have importantroles on this team. It's fun to play with him and to have been here these lastfew years with him."
The one position which seemed to take a step back for the Niners afterKaepernick took over seemed to be tight end. That all changed in the NFCChampionship Game, however, when Colin rediscovered Vernon Davis, whotortured the Falcons in the middle of the field. Perhaps the most athletictight end in the game, linebackers are far too slow to deal with Davis andsafeties get engulfed by his massive frame. Backup Delanie Walker gets openoften in the flats but is prone to drops.
OFFENSIVE LINE: The offensive line shift in Baltimore has fueled things.Bryant McKinnie was once a Pro Bowler in Minnesota and although he's seen hisbetter days and lives an undisciplined lifestyle, he's a natural left tackle,enabling Michael Oher to move back to where he's far more comfortable -- theright side. Rookie Kelechi Osemele also kicked over to left guard where hissize and strength makes a big impact, especially in the running game.
Veteran pivot Matt Birk, a six-time Pro Bowl selection, could join Ray Lewisin retirement after the Super Bowl. Like Lewis, he's a natural leader whomakes all the right protection calls on the line of scrimmage. The otherstarter is right guard Marshal Yanda, Baltimore's best offensive lineman.Yanda is a road-grader in the running game and mirrors in pass protectionwell.
"I think it's a pretty solid group that we have up there right now," Flaccosaid. "Bryant (McKinnie) is fresh and playing quick and moving well, andobviously, with his stature out there, he's a big strong guy. So, I think thatallowed us to put Mike (Oher) on the right side, bring K.O. over to the leftguard. He's a great young player. It gives us five really good talents upthere, and they've been playing really well together, so you've got to givethe credit to those guys."
The 49ers' offensive line is the best unit in the NFL. In the playoffs,the Packers front seven played the role of speed bump against San Franciscowhile in Atlanta, Gore could have driven a Humvee through some of the holes hewas given.
The stalwarts are on the left side with both tackle Joe Staley and guard MikeIupati were honored as Pro bowl starters. Center Jonathan Goodwin, right guardAlex Boone and right tackle Anthony Davis round out the impressive group.
"We feel special man. In football, the front sets the tempo and we always havethat," Iupati said. "It's true in every phase of football. The offensive linestarts the game and sets the tempo. If we can protect the quarterback theneverything is good. The receivers will be wide open and give them a littletime."
DEFENSIVE LINE: The Baltimore and San Francisco defenses are similar. Bothuse a 3-4 scheme with one stalwart on the defensive line and a linebackingcorps filled with playmakers. For the Ravens the big dog on the line isHaloti Ngata, a tremendously strong player who engulfs blockers. Ngata teamswith nose tackle Terrence Cody, a difference maker with limited snaps, andPernell McPhee, a solid if unspectacular edge player. Ma'ake Kemoeatu alsogets significant repetitions inside and is just a tad behind Cody as a runstuffer.
"We are really pretty young, expect for those two guys," defensive coordinatorDean Pees said when discussing Ngata and Kemoeatu. "One thing they bring is inthe classroom is the experience of how to be a pro, how to study, how to watchfilm, how to do all those things, plus that -- Then you add onto that theirphysical ability. They're two big guys that can kind of hold forth in there.They have done a great job. I'd say it is a combination of both of thosethings."
The headliner of San Francisco's 3-4 front is veteran Justin Smith, a high-motored four-time Pro Bowl selection who is still dealing with a tricepsinjury suffered in Week 15. Smith is still plenty banged-up but his presenceand leadership can't be emphasized enough, although his main attribute,prodigious strength, has certainly been curtailed.
"I think it's getting better every week," Smith said when talking about hisarm. "I can do more stuff every week. It heals up the more time goes by. It'sfeeling better. I'm getting used to wearing the brace a little bit better. Iknow how many more games I have left now, so it's just four more quarters."
Isaac Sopoaga's job at nose tackle is to tie up multiple blockers in order tohelp Willis and NaVorro Bowman flow to the ball. The 6-foot-2, 330-poundproduct generally does a nice job keeping opposing offensive linemen get tothe second level. Ray McDonald rounds out the unit and is a nice 3-4 end,stout enough to occupy blockers and athletic enough to occasionally getupfield.
"It all comes down to if you prepare during the week, and you work hard andyou go out there and make plays you're going to win ball games," McDonaldsaid.
LINEBACKERS: Lewis, who will be calling it a career after this game, belongson the Mount Rushmore of linebackers. Although not the player he once was, theleadership he brings to the field had been sorely lacking from the Baltimoredefense. His running mate inside is the underrated Dannell Ellerbe, who wassecond on the team in tackles this season and can create havoc with hispenetration skills.
Terrell Suggs is the 2011 NFL Defensive Player of the Year, who missed thefirst six games of the season after tearing his Achilles in the offseason andhas also struggled with a biceps injury, He's not the same explosive guy whohas 84 1/2 sacks since entering the NFL in 2003 but Suggs is still more thancapable of contributing, although his biceps could make it difficult to holdthe edge, especially in the read-option.
Rookie Courtney Upshaw brings youth and explosion to the unit while PaulKruger has developed into a more than solid situational pass rusher, amassinga career-best and team-high nine sacks, 7 1/2 of which came in the Ravens'final eight games.
The 49ers, however, possess the best linebacking unit in all of football.Aldon Smith will likely finish third in the NFC Defensive Player of the Yearvoting after piling up a team-record 19.5 sacks.
"He's setting records left and right, so I think anytime anybody does thatit's surprising," Justin Smith said. "Just his transition into the NFL and howeasy he's made it look, that's what the great ones do -- they make it lookeasy."
Bowman and Willis are both All-Pros and if anything Bowman has actuallysurpassed his more high-profile colleague as an all-around player. Willis,though, is the unquestioned leader described by head coach Jim Harbaugh as"getting the job done kind of guy and not taking credit kind of guy."
"I've always had high expectations for myself," Willis said. "Any time I'mable to make a play or do something that most (people) don't think I could door can do. For me, in my mind, I've already seen it or felt like I could doit. So I don't get overly excited about anything because in my mind I'm justdoing my job."
Ahmad Brooks, meanwhile, would be the best 'backer on a lot of clubs and he'sthe fourth best for Niners defensive coordinator Vic Fangio.
CORNERBACKS: It took quite awhile before Baltimore recovered from the loss ofits best corner Lardarius Webb to injury (ACL). Former first round pick JimmySmith simply hasn't developed but the unheralded duo of Corey Graham and CaryWilliams have combined to settle things down on the outside. Neither player isgoing to conjure up visions of a shutdown corner but they've done their part.
"One unit. Through all our ups and down, we've stuck together," Pees said whentalking about his corners. "We always believed, and we kept our eyes on theprize, and that's what we just kept doing."
The 49ers haven't recorded a ton of interceptions but regulars Carlos Rogersand Tarell Brown have down a solid if unspectacular job while nickel backChris Culliver brings some size and big play ability to the defensivebackfield.
Rogers went to the Pro Bowl in 2011 but Brown has been San Francisco's topcorner in 2012, amassing 13 passes defended. Rogers still carries thereputation, however, and teams tend to look elsewhere. When things are spreadout and Culliver is on the field, the opposition will take its shots at himbut the South Carolina product was second on San Francisco with twointerceptions and led the club with 15 passes broken up.
"I think it's going to be very competitive out there," Brown said. "(TheRavens are) definitely going to take their shots, they're definitely going tocome after us, but we look forward to it. I think we'll stand up to thechallenge. Let the best man win."
SAFETIES: Ed Reed, a Louisiana native and the eight-time All-Pro, would loveto garner his first Super Bowl crown in the Bayou. Reed has 61 career picks inhis 11 pro seasons, including 4 thefts for 78 return yards and a TD during the2012 campaign.
"Going home. I'm speechless when it comes to talking about going home for thisSuper Bowl," Reed said. "It's amazing to me. I just give everything to God onthat one. This is just amazing. Everybody doesn't get this chance to even playin the Super Bowl, win the Super Bowl. It's just amazing to me. I'm justsoaking it up, just really enjoying it -- ever minute, every second."
Reed doesn't have the wheels he once had but still has the football smarts tomake things happen. Matching up with Davis could be a problem, however.
"He's a receiver to me," Reed said. "(He's a) 4.3-4.4 (40-yard dash) guy. Thatsize -- He's definitely a threat that you've got to know where he is at alltimes. So, you've got to watch the guy at all times. He might not have been asmuch as a threat with [Colin] Kaepernick in there, but he's always a threat."
Reed's running mate, Bernard Pollard, is a big hitter and intimidator. The AFCChampionship Game swung dramatically in Baltimore's favor when Pollard blew upPats running back Stevan Ridley with a vicious helmet-to-helmet hit thatknocked Ridley cold before he hit the ground, causing a fumble. Like mostsafeties who bring the wood, however, Pollard struggles in man-to-mancoverage.
It's not like Ronnie Lott is manning the back end for the 49ers but dual ProBowl selections Dashon Goldson and Donte Whitner provide an intimidationfactor for Frisco, at least one as big as you can have in today's watereddown, overly regulated product.
Both are big hitters, wrap up well and limit yards after the catch. Goldson isprobably the better of the two in pass defense but neither are spectacularwhen matched up in man-to-man coverage.
"There is a lot of want to. Guys want to make plays, we want to make ourtackles, we want to win, and we want to compete," Goldson said when talkingabout the 49ers' defensive backfield. "There is a lot of want to in oursecondary."
PLACEKICKERS: Rookie Justin Tucker recorded 132 points in his rookie season,the third most in Ravens history. Tucker made 30-of-33 field goal attemptsoverall in the regular season for a 90.9 percent success rate, the second-bestmark in team lore and also second by a rookie kicker in NFL history behindMinnesota's Blair Walsh, who was 35-of-38 in 2012. Tucker hasn't had manychances in the postseason, converting the a 47-yard game-winner at Mile Highin the second overtime against Denver and his only other chance, an easy 23-yard attempt, making him a gaudy 32-of-35 overall in his first year as pro
If it weren't for Walsh's own extraordinary rookie season in Minnesota Tuckerprobably would have made a number of All-Pro teams.
Tucker's mirror in Super Bowl XLVII, San Francisco's David Akers, has theexperience edge and the more impressive resume but the six-time All-Pro hasn'tbeen nearly as effective as Tucker this season, something Ravens special teamscoordinator Jerry Rosburg has downplayed.
"Every kick has a life of its own. So, you go face that next kick, that's whatyou do," the coach said when talking about the struggling Akers, who missed anNFL-high 14 field goal attempts in 2012, just one year after banging throughan NFL record 44.
That said, Tucker's season as a whole and his approach to his craft has tohave Rosburg feeling good, especially if the Super Bowl comes down to onekick.
"The most important confidence that Justin Tucker brings to the kicking gameis confidence in himself," Rosburg said. "He can kick, and he knows he cankick, and his teammates know he can kick. So it just keeps growing that way,and we're happy we have him."
PUNTER: Baltimore's Sam Koch is looking forward to matching his skills againstone of the best in the NFL, San Francisco's three-time Pro Bowl punter AndyLee. Koch recorded a career-high and franchise-record 47.1 gross puntingaverage this season and also set a team record by producing a 40.8 netaverage.
A three-time Pro Bowler, the monster-legged Lee has already set the 49ersfranchise record for most punting yards and also ranks first in team historywith a 45.9 yard gross average. During his 2012 season, Lee led the NFL with a43.2 net average, ranked third with 36 punts inside the 20 and made a few All-Pro teams. He's one of the best.
LONG-SNAPPER: Don't underestimate Morgan Cox's steadiness as a long snapperwhen it comes to Tucker's and Koch's success for the Ravens. Cox, an undraftedfree agent out of the University of Tennessee, has been a big upgrade sincereplacing veteran Matt Katula in 2010.
Veteran 49ers long-snapper Brian Jennings is a two-time Pro Bowl selection andhas even developed a program on the art and science of long snapping.Generally when a placekicker struggles, some of it has to do with inconsistentsnapping or holding but that hasn't been the case in San Francisco.
RETURN GAME: The Ravens usually use Pro Bowl kick returner Jacoby Jones onboth punts and kicks. Jones ranked first in the NFL by posting a Ravens'franchise-record 30.7-yard kickoff return average and 9.2 on punts, includingthree returned for TDs -- two kickoff returns (108 yards and 105 yards) and apunt (63 yards). Jones has generally been bottled up on kickoffs in thepostseason, netting 17.3 per return but he's upped his production on punts,averaging 13.7 on six returns. Backup receiver Tandon Doss and veteran safetyEd Reed also take the occasional punt for John Harbaugh's club.
"(David) Akers has got a really strong leg. He can kick out of the end zoneand that punter (Andy lee), he's a climber too. So you've got to be patientand wait on your opportunities," Jones said.
Williams was the goat in the 2011 NFC Championship Game, muffing a pair ofpunts which enabled the New York Giants to move on en route to a Super Bowlcrown. Ginn, who was injured last reason, returned in 2012 and did a steady ifunspectacular job, averaging 10.2 yards per return with a long of 38. Ginn hasreturned three kickoffs and three punts in his career for TDs but has lostsome of that great long speed which made him so dangerous in the past.
Ginn and James have each gotten their fair share of kickoff returns with Ginnaveraging 23.0 a pop and James up at 29.8 with a long of 62. Clearly James hasmore juice than Ginn at this stage but ball security will be paramount in thisgame and Ginn is considered the more secure option.
SPECIAL TEAMS DEFENSE: During the offseason, the Ravens signed Graham, whoearned special teams Pro Bowl honors with Chicago during the 2011 campaign. Inaddition to Graham, Baltimore also boasts another Pro Bowl special teamer inlinebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo, who has made three trips to the NFL's All-Stargame. Ayanbadejo (187) and Graham (110) have combined to post 297 specialteams tackles during their careers. In 2012, Ayanbadejo posted 14 specialteams stops (most on the team), Graham, who started the final eight games atcornerback, totaled six while second-year special teams standout RB AnthonyAllen had 12 special teams tackles. After allowing 7.8 yards per punt returnand 23.2 on kickoffs in the regular season, Baltimore's coverage units havebeen shaky in the postseason, allowing 20.9 on punts with a TD and 32.5 onkickoffs with another score. Both returns TDs were by Denver's TrindonHolliday.
The 49ers coverage corps was great during the regular season on punt coverageand less so with the longer field on kickoffs, limiting teams to 6.9 yards perpunt return and 26.9 on kickoffs. Backup cornerback Tramaine Brock, reservelinebacker Michael Wilhoite and veteran safety C.J. Spillman are the keys toSan Francisco's coverage units.
COACHING: A lot of people are rooting for John Harbaugh, the perceived"underdog" who rose up through the NFL ranks the hard way. The Ravens headcoach wasn't a star quarterback at a football factory like Michigan, wasn't afirst round pick by a marquee franchise like the Chicago Bears, didn't spend14 years in the NFL as a player, and wasn't the flavor of the month as acoaching candidate after a stellar stay at Stanford -- that's Jim's resume, abig man on campus-type background.
John spent his college years as a defensive back at Miami-Ohio, and wasperhaps best known as the roommate of Brian Pillman, who went on to become ahuge wrestling star with both Ted Turner's World Championship Wrestlingfranchise and Vice McMahon's World Wrestling Entertainment empire.
The older Harbaugh brother didn't play a down in the NFL and spent 13 yearstoiling the college ranks as an assistant at places like Western Michigan,Pitt, Morehead State, Cincinnati and Indiana before Ray Rhodes and Andy Reidgave him a shot as the Philadelphia Eagles special teams coach.
John tutored the Birds special teamers for nine years before getting promotedto defensive backs coach and most were stunned when the Ravens took a flyer onhim and made him their head coach in 2008.
Hindsight says Baltimore was right. Under John, the Ravens have recorded atleast 10 wins in four of five regular seasons, and own the NFL's second-mostwins (62, including playoffs) since his arrival in the Charm City. One morevictory in the Super Bowl and Baltimore would match New England, who hasamassed 63 wins since '08.
Jim, on the other hand, is 27-8-1 through two years as the Niners coach withtwo NFC Championship Games and a Super Bowl appearance but had "admitted" Johnis the better coach.
"He's just trying to soften me up," John said. "I know how he operates, I'veheard that before. He's a great coach. I'm proud of Jim, I'm proud of whathe's doing. Proud of their accomplishments, I'm very impressed by their team.It's not surprising. It's the same way that he's played and coached orwhatever he's done his whole life."
SUPER BOWL BANTER
-Super Bowl XLVII will be the second (Super Bowl XXX between Dallas andPittsburgh) in which each team lost its conference title game the previousyear. In 2011, the 49ers lost to the New York Giants in the NFC Championshipgame and the Ravens were defeated by the New England Patriots in the AFCtitle tilt.
-During the championship games, the Ravens and 49ers became the first setof road teams to win conference titles since 1997 (Denver and Green Bay).In the second halves of their games, the Ravens (21-0) and 49ers (14-0)outscored their opponents 35-0.
-The AFC (47.7 million viewers) and NFC (42.0 million viewers) ChampionshipGames ranked as TV's most-watched programs since Super Bowl XLVI.
-Kaepernick will be the fourth quarterback in the Super Bowl era to start theSuper Bowl in the same season as his first career NFL start, joining Tom Brady(Patriots), Kurt Warner (St. Louis Rams) and Vince Ferragamo (Los AngelesRams).
-Kaepernick's seven career regular-season starts are the third-fewest for astarting quarterback in the Super Bowl, trailing only Jeff Hostetler (Giants,four) and Ferragamo (five).
OVERALL ANALYSIS: San Francisco is certainly the more talented team butBaltimore has the experience advantage and any intangible edge Lewis' last runmay provide.
"The 49ers will win if we play to the highest level of our potential." Davissaid.
That's probably true but the Ravens seem to have taken on a team of destinylook. Meanwhile, Flacco already has eight postseason wins under his belt whileKaepernick has just nine NFL starts.
Expect Baltimore to get it done with a late Tucker field goal.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Ravens 23, 49ers 20