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Super Bowl XLVII: Let the Good Times Roll

Super Bowl Preview and Prediction


Super Bowl XLVII: Let the Good Times Roll

Super Bowl fans celebrate on Bourbon Street

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Super Bowl XLVII promises to be a matchup that reflects its New Orleans setting: a hard-hitting, rollicking affair that should be as entertaining as a rowdy night on Bourbon Street.

The combatants, the San Francisco 49ers and Baltimore Ravens, both feature explosive offensive players, superstar defenders and terrific special teams.

And, as a bonus, we have two opposing head coaches who are brothers, the first time in NFL history that's happened.

Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?

Most NFL games come down to matchups and this one should be no different.

First, the coaches. The hiring of John Harbaugh in 2008 was initially a disappointment to Baltimore fans. Harbaugh, the elder of the two brothers, had been primarily a special teams coach.

Yet, he galvanized the Ravens, bringing a sense of unity to the team. Since he took over, the Ravens have gone 54-26 in the regular season and 8-4 in the playoffs. He has turned Baltimore into one of the NFL's most consistent franchises the last few years.

Younger brother Jim has only been a head coach for two years, but he started 140 games as an NFL quarterback, and picked the brain of legendary coach Bill Walsh.

Jim Harbaugh took over a 6-10 team in 2010 and since then the 49ers have gone 24-7, won two NFC Championship games and now, they're in the Super Bowl.

From Stodgy to Explosive

The Ravens offense has been quirky this year. They were only No. 10 in points scored in the regular season, but they've caught fire in the postseason, scoring 90 points in three games against, admittedly, some pretty weak defenses.

The big changes are quarterback Joe Flacco, who took over for previous starter Alex Smith, and offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell, who took over those duties in early December.

Caldwell has turned a stodgy, stuttering offense into a much more imaginative unit and has gotten the most out of Flacco, who throws to a very talented group of receivers that includes speedsters Torrey Smith and Jacoby Jones as well as running back Ray Rice coming out of the backfield.

Strong, Smart and Deep

The 49ers defense is dominant, with four Pro Bowlers in the front seven. They have brains and brawn and, just as important, depth. There is quality at every position.

Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman are probably the two best inside linebackers in football and Aldon Smith and Justin Smith are two of the league's fiercest pass rushers. Aldon Smith had a franchise record 19 1/2 sacks this season.

The 49ers put pressure on and their secondary is very good, quick, physical and smart.

Key Matchup

Flacco is a guy who likes to throw the ball downfield, so the 49ers cornerbacks and safeties will be a key matchup against the talented Ravens' receivers.

San Francisco's secondary is stingy when it comes to giving up passes downfield: The 49ers gave up only 38 passes of 20 yards or more in regular season.

Don't expect the 49ers secondary to go one-on-one with the talented Torrey Smith on Sunday, but that means leaving Baltimore's other dangerous receivers, including tight end Dennis Pitta and wide receiver Anquan Boldin, open.

Kaepernick a Rarity

The 49ers offense is even quirkier than Baltimore's. Quarterback Colin Kaepernick replaced the once highly-regarded Alex Smith in the 11th week of the season, and the San Francisco offense was suddenly no longer the red-headed stepchild to the dominant defense.

Kaepernick has fewer starts than any other starting Super Bowl QB outside of Jeff Hostetler and Vince Ferragamo, who replaced injured starters.

Kaepernick is a rarity in the NFL, an excellent runner who is also an exceptional pocket passer. In other words, he can hurt you running or throwing.

Playoff Monster

He started strong once he took over in the regular season against some of the league's best defenses and he's been a monster in the playoffs.

Stopping the run is a key against this 49er offense. Easier said than done because San Francisco has the best offensive line in the NFL, with three first-round draft picks.

Even if the Ravens do contain the run, Kapernick has some talented receivers at the end of his throws, particularly wide receiver Michael Crabtree and an aging Randy Moss. Tight end Vernon Davis is also a big threat.

Ravens Hurt by Injuries

The Baltimore defense had scads of injury problems this year, with no-name players and special teams contributors filling in at key spots throughout the year.

They lost superb cornerback Lardarius Webb, out for the season. Cornerback Jimmy Smith missed five games with a hernia injury and is still struggling to regain his former quickness.

Inside linebacker Jameel McClain has been out since Dec. 9 and won't play. His replacement, Ed Reed, has a bum shoulder.

Still, the Baltimore defense has regrouped in the playoffs, containing the high-powered offenses of Denver and New England. They've allowed just four touchdowns in three playoff games. Part of that is due to the return of linebacker Ray Lewis.

Even so, the Ravens may end up playing a lot of zone coverage since they will have difficulty keeping pace with the 49ers' offensive jets.

Here's Your Winner

Baltimore might have emotion on its side, since future Hall of Famer Lewis has said this will be his last game. And Flacco has risen to the postseason occasion, throwing for eight touchdowns and no interceptions in these playoffs.

Still, San Francisco is too strong top to bottom in almost every facet of the game.

The 49ers win in a tight, compelling Super Bowl, 34-31.

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